Best of our wild blogs: 30 Sep 16

Fun with R.U.M. mangrove workshop!
wild shores of singapore

Fires driving deforestation in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem

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PUB to award contract for $400-500m desalination plant next month

Tan Hwee Hwee, Business Times AsiaOne 29 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE - National water agency PUB is expected to unveil, within weeks, the winner of a S$400-500 million contract for the construction of Singapore's fourth desalination plant under a design, build, own and operate (DBOO) arrangement.

In April, PUB had announced the tender for the 30 million gallon plant to be built in Marina East. The Business Times understands that the tender drew six bids - four were from Singapore-listed entities Hyflux, United Engineers (UE), Sembcorp Industries and the infrastructure business unit of Keppel Corporation; two others were from the China-linked MCC Land Pte Ltd and Spain's Tedagua.

The tender is understood to entail a two-stage evaluation of the commercial and technical elements of the proposals from the bidders.

After the first-stage evaluation, UE was leading by a wide margin, based on its proposed tariffs for the plant. But informed sources said that technical parameters such as the energy efficiency of the proposed plant would weigh in in the second stage.

A factor that could also influence the outcome of the tender is if any of the bidders (potentially Hyflux, Keppel Corp and Sembcorp Industries) proposes tapping the excess power generated by its existing projects to enhance the overall competitiveness of its proposal.

All four Singapore-listed contenders have previously bagged water-treatment projects from PUB. Hyflux won the contracts for Singapore's first two desalination plants, SingSpring and Tuaspring; Keppel-Seghers, Sembcorp Industries and UE bagged contracts for three NEWater plants.

Sembcorp Industries confirmed to BT its participation in the tender for the Marina East plant.

A Keppel spokesman said, without commenting directly on the tender, that the conglomerate is "regularly evaluating opportunities to grow its businesses". Hyflux and UE did not respond.

Between the two other bidders, Spain's Tedagua is supporting HSL Constructor Pte Ltd in the delivery of a process solution for Singapore's third desalination plant in Tuas.

MCC Land is the Singapore-based property development unit of Shanghai-listed Metallurgy Corporation of China's subsidiary in Singapore, MCC Singapore. MCC Singapore has been involved in the construction of HDB projects, including the main lift-upgrading programmes.

The Marina East desalination plant will add another 137,000 cubic metres (about 30 million gallons) of desalinated water a day to Singapore's water supply.

The award of the contract is expected in October, with construction of the plant projected for 2019.

PUB is aiming to expand its desalination and NEWater capacities to meet up to 85 per cent of Singapore's water needs by 2060.

Singapore is drawing 100 million gallons a day, about a quarter of its daily water demand, from the two desalination plants already in use.

PUB's third desalination facility in Tuas will have a capacity of 30 million gallons per day and begin operations by 2019. After the Marina East plant, a fifth plant, also with a capacity of 30 million gallons, is on the table for Jurong Island; it will be completed around 2020.

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Malaysia: Murai birds worth RM23K seized

NABILA AHMAD The Star 29 Sep 16;

KOTA TINGGI: The marine police have seized 460 Murai birds worth RM23,000 and detained a 30-year-old man who was transporting the birds to a neighbouring country on Thursday morning.

Marine Police Region 2 deputy commander Supt Shaari Arifin said that the suspect was arrested while carrying all of the birds in 46 baskets via a lorry at around 1230am here.

He said the suspect had failed to present the license to own the birds and the police had seized an engine that is believed to have been stolen.

The case is being investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716).

The suspect as well as all of the seized items were sent to the Johor National Park Department.

Meanwhile in Sungai Rengit, 17 illegal immigrants from Indonesia were arrested in two separate raids for entering the country illegally through Teluk Rumania.

“Investigations showed that all of the suspects were travelling via boats and had failed to present their identification documents upon request,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

He added that all of the suspects were brought to the marine police Kota Tinggi office for further action.

Supt Shaari said that the case was being investigated under the Immigration Act 1959/63.

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Malaysia to fight ‘no palm oil’ label

The Star 30 Sep 16;

BERLIN: Malaysia is set to go all out to fight the “no palm oil” label issue in the European region, says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“We are engaging with various countries (in the European Union),” he told Malaysian media at the end of his three-day official visit here yesterday.

Najib, who is also Finance Minister, said Malaysia would also work with Indonesia to engage with the European Union member countries to address the “no palm oil” label issue.

He said Malaysia cannot allow EU countries to damage the prospects of Malaysia’s golden crop in the region.

Hence, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council will work on this, he added.

According to several reports, there are about 1,500 products with the “no palm oil” label in France, Belgium and Italy.

Such labelling can be categorised as a non-trade barrier and a move to deny market access for palm oil.

Najib had also discussed the same issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in his bilateral meeting on Tuesday.

He had explained to her that Malaysia subscribed to sustainable development of the palm oil industry and that there was no “slash and burn” policy.

He also invited German lawmakers to see this for themselves.

Najib said Merkel had assured Malaysia that Germany has no plans to impose any form of tax or tariff on palm oil.

They (Germany) will also not support any practice of the “no palm oil” label in Germany, said the Prime Minister. — Bernama

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Indonesia: Activists urge Indonesia to prioritize ecotourism

The Jakarta Post 29 Sep 16;

The government must prioritize eco-friendly tourism to engage local people in developing the tourism industry and at the same time preserve the nature of the biggest archipelagic country.

Indriani Setiawati, a communication and network development manager of the Indonesian Eco Tourism Network, said conventional tourism usually ended up being a threat to natural conservation, while environmentally-friendly tourism was seeing growing demand worldwide.

“Economic, environmental and social relations will affect each other in a positive way in ecotourism […]. Surveys show that many travelers prefer eco-friendly tourism,” she said in a seminar entitled “Eco-tourism: Globalizing Local Communities without Impacting the Environment” in Jakarta, Wednesday.

Indriani cited a survey of more than 700 American travelers conducted by travel website TripAdvisor in 2012, which found that 71 percent of the travelers plan to make more eco-friendly choices.

Indriani said Indonesia required a massive campaign on the business potential of ecotourism, as it usually took about two years to change the mindset of local people and to make them see the potential in their region to generate income from ecotourism.

She noted that illegal loggers in forest areas of Tangkahan, North Sumatra, had turned to conservation after realizing that chopping down trees would not secure them long-lasting income.

Therefore, they had become tour guides and were taking care of plants and wildlife, supported by the local administration that had given them access to inviting tourists to the Leuser National Park, she added. (wnd)

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Thailand Suspends Seahorse Trade Amid Conservation Concerns


JOHANNESBURG: Seahorses, traded by the millions annually as an ingredient in traditional medicine in parts of Asia, are getting a reprieve from Thailand, the world's biggest exporter of the animal.

A marine biologist who works closely with Thailand on seahorse conservation welcomed the government's decision to suspend seahorse trade because of concern about threats to its wild population.

"It's a way station to getting serious management in place," Amanda Vincent of The University of British Columbia said Thursday. Vincent is director of Project Seahorse, a marine conservation group whose partner is the Zoological Society of London.

The Thailand decision was announced at a meeting in South Africa of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. The U.N. meeting, which regulates trade in more than 35,000 species of animals and plants, ends Oct. 5.

Seahorses are mainly used in dried form for traditional medicine in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They are also popular as curios, and there is a trade in live seahorses for display in home aquariums, including in Europe and North America.

CITES requires some controls on trade in the dozens of types of seahorse, designed to ensure the survival of the species.

But Thailand, responsible for three-quarters of the world's documented exports of seahorses, could not meet its obligations and stopped issuing export permits at the beginning of the year, according to Vincent.

Thailand's goal, she said, is to make seahorse exports "sustainable."

CITES has suspended the seahorse trade with three other big exporters — Vietnam, Senegal and Guinea — after they failed to meet requirements for the trade in the animal, Vincent said.

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Australia: Dugong deaths along Queensland coast spark calls for testing to prevent further losses

Stephanie Smail ABC 29 Sep 16;

Four dugongs have been found dead along the Queensland coast in the past week, sparking calls for testing to prevent further losses.

Since last Wednesday, carcasses have been found south of Mackay, at Hervey Bay and north and south of Townsville.

One drowned in a commercial fishing net.

Jim Higgs from the World Wildlife Fund said Queensland's environment department had not done testing to find out how the animals died.

"Most of the animals we've seen over the last week have been in a situation where an internal investigation would have been possible to see if the animal had ingested something that had caused a blockage or if it had drowned," he said.

"I just can't understand why there wasn't a priority to get these animals necropsied so we can learn from what's happened."
Studies show there are only about 600 dugongs left between Cooktown and Bundaberg.

"Evidence suggests the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef's population might only be 3 per cent of what it was in the 1960s," Mr Higgs said.

"So every one of these animals is critically important."

Mr Higgs said conditions that wiped out coral on the reef could be having a similar effect on seagrass beds, a vital food source for the vulnerable mammals.

He said testing the dead dugongs could shed some light and help protect other animals.

"If there was a big loss in seagrass we may see similar losses to what we saw after the 2011 flooding which led to massive numbers of dugongs dying along the Great Barrier Reef coast," he said.

A spokeswoman for the environment department confirmed necropsies were not performed on any of the animals, but said tissue samples were collected from two of the dugongs.

She said more detailed tests were only done if the animal died recently, could be safely retrieved and if it was likely the cause of death would be clear.

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Rare bird being driven to extinction by poaching for its 'red ivory' bill

Helmeted hornbills’ solid red beak sells for several times the price of elephant ivory due to soaring demand on the Chinese black market
Damian Carrington The Guardian 28 Sep 16;

A virtually unknown ivory poaching crisis is rapidly driving one of the world’s most spectacular birds to extinction, a global wildlife summit has heard.

The helmeted hornbill, found mainly in Indonesia, Borneo and Thailand, has a solid red beak which sells as a “red ivory” on the black market, for several times the price of elephant ivory. The huge birds have been caught for centuries for their tail feathers, prized by local communities, but since 2011 poaching has soared to feed Chinese demand for carving ivory, even though the trade is illegal, sending the hornbill into a death spiral.

The bird, which can have a wingspan of 2m, was officially listed as “near threatened” in 2012 but within three years had plunged three danger levels to “critically endangered”. Over 2,100 heads were seized in Indonesia and China in the two years up to August 2014, according to the Species Survival Network, and some estimates suggest 6,000 a year are killed.

The government of Indonesia set out the hornbill’s plight on Tuesday in front of the 182 nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cites had already given its highest level protection to the hornbill in 1975 – all trade is illegal. But Indonesia demanded more international action to break the crime syndicates that smuggle the beak ivory, known as casques.

“The high price reached by the casques motivates hunters to kill all the hornbills they cross, including juvenile birds,” said the Cites delegate from Indonesia, where police have arrested and prosecuted 15 hornbill traffickers since 2015. “The illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn has been well documented, however, the illegal trade in casques has been little known. If this highly profitable illegal trade is not curbed, the existence of this majestic species is in danger and is likely to lead to extinction.”

“It is in huge trouble,” said Elizabeth Bennett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society. “They have this fabulous call, that ends in cackling laughter, which you can hear from a mile away. But they are incredibly easy to hunt because of that call: it must be the most spectacular bird call on the planet.”

The Cites nations agreed urgent action was needed and will decide on its precise form in the coming days. “Indonesia is calling on other countries to take hornbill ivory as seriously as the other ivory,” Bennett said. The Cites action is a “big red flag”, she said, which will be very valuable in pressuring governments, including China, to act.

Bennett said the slow-breeding birds were particularly vulnerable to poaching. They mate for life, and when ready to lay their one or two eggs per year, the male uses mud to seal the female into a protective hole in a tree. The male then feeds the female and chicks through a slit, meaning if the male is shot, the whole family starves. The bird’s casque is used to hammer out insects from rotting wood, or to fight.

The hornbill has also been harmed by the loss of much of its habitat to palm oil plantations. “It has not been helped by the vast clearances of lowland forest in Borneo and Sumatra,” said Bennett.

“Only global cooperation can stop the illegal trade in hornbill ivory before it is too late,” said the Cites delegate from the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society. “I have witnessed the rampant illegal poaching in the rainforest.”

On Monday, the Guardian exposed the central role of international organised crime groups in wildlife trafficking in Asia and linked the illegal trade to corrupt officials at the highest levels. The investigation also revealed the crime family at the centre of Asia’s animal trafficking network.

Responding to the investigation, Heather Sohl, WWF-UK’s chief advisor on wildlife, said: “This highlights the necessity to tackle the organised criminal networks that are so entrenched in wildlife trafficking, which is estimated to be worth over £12bn a year. Corruption often goes hand in hand with these large-scale criminal operations and for the first time ever corruption will be discussed this week at Cites.”

Iris Ho, of Humane Society International, said: “No governments should give cover to these exposed wildlife traffickers who have profited, making tens of millions of dollars from the slaughter of elephants, lions, pangolins and rhinos.

“We urge the Cites [nations] to give these animals the highest level of protection possible and ensure that this nexus of Africa-Asia wildlife traffickers are swiftly brought to justice.”

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New data shows 'staggering' extent of great ape trade

Matt McGrath BBC 30 Sep 16;

A new database suggests say there has been a dramatic under-reporting of the live, illegal trade in great apes.

Around 1,800 orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas were seized in 23 different countries since 2005, the figures show.

Since 90% of the cases were within national borders they didn't appear in major data records, which only contain international seizures.

The new database has been published at the Cites meeting here in Johannesburg.

Records incomplete

Comprehensive data on the illicit trade in great apes is rare.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) only keeps records of international seizures, which experts in the field have long believed was giving a misleading impression.

The new Apes Seizures Database paints a more detailed picture, compiling figures for any seizure of a great ape in an unlawful situation dating back to 2005.

"It's definitely a staggering number, it's larger than we expected," said Doug Cress from the Great Ape Survival Partnership, who have put together the new database.

"We're finding that it's really averaging about two seizures a week around the world. That may seem small but the usual ratio for a chimpanzee is that to get one alive you've had to kill five or 10, for gorillas it's like four to one.

"That extrapolates quickly to a lot of dead in the wild."

Orang-utans were by far the most commonly captured animals, accounting for 67% of seizures by the authorities.

It's believed that habitat destruction in Borneo and Sumatra has seen large numbers flushed out of the forests.

The conversion of their natural homes into palm oil plantations or for pulp and paper has made the orangutans easy prey for those who want to trade them illegally.

Chimpanzees represented about a quarter of all seizures while gorillas represented six percent and bonobos around 3%.

"This is a live trade, mostly infants that have to be moved quickly," said Doug Cress.

"They are trafficked on fast routes - that usually means hand luggage, the overhead bin in your airplane."

Cash rewards

While Indonesia and Malaysia are high on the list of countries with seizures thanks to the orangutans, West Africa also emerges as a hub, specifically countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cameroon.

What's feeding the trade is money - a chimpanzee in Asia can sell for between $25-30,000. A gorilla can command up to $45,000.

As well as the animal welfare worries, and the impact on wild populations, there are also concerns about the potential to spread disease. HIV is believed to have originated in apes before being transmitted to humans.

Doug Cress believes that the new method of collecting and monitoring the data will help the fight against the live trafficking of these animals.

"Most databases have up to three years for countries to file information, but by then the trail is cold.

"We are talking about live time with this new database, when we see trends we will inform Interpol and Cites immediately."

The Apes Seizures Database has been built by the GRASP Partnership, in conjunction with the UN Environment's World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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Furniture that destroys forests: crackdown on 'rampant' trade in rosewood

Cites summit moves to protect the world’s most trafficked wild product by placing all 300 species of the tree under trade restrictions
Damian Carrington The Guardian 29 Sep 16;

Governments have launched a crackdown on the rampant billion-dollar trade in rosewood timber that is plundering forests across the planet to feed a booming luxury furniture market in China.

The Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) summit on Thursday placed all 300 species of rosewood under trade restrictions, meaning criminals can no longer pass off illegally logged species as legitimate.

Rosewood is the world’s most trafficked wild product, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, accounting for a third of all seizures by value, more than elephant ivory, pangolins, rhino horn, lions and tigers put together.

With a beautiful deep red glow, it is the traditional wood used for elite, classic-style “hongmu” furniture in China: one huge carved bed was on sale recently for $1m. But due to explosive demand from China’s fast-growing middle class, the rosewood trade has soared since 2005, multiplying 65 times in value and now worth $2.2bn a year.

As a result, the forests of south-east Asia have been rapidly emptying, peaking in 2014. Traffickers are now targeting more than 80 other countries across the tropics where rosewoods grow, particularly in west Africa but also central America. China’s rosewood imports from Africa soared sevenfold between 2010 and 2014, according to a report from Forest Trends, with $216m of west African rosewood imported in the first half of 2016 alone.

Illegal gangs move swiftly from country to country, felling all the trees they can find and creating devastating boom-and-bust cycles, said the report. “When trees become scarce in one place, or authorities strengthen controls, the shady networks quickly move to another country and the deadly cycle of corruption, violence and forest destruction starts anew,” said a statement from Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a Cites participant.

China imported 2m cubic metres of logs and wood in 2014, according to the EIA. This is equivalent to millions of rosewood trees as only the dark, dense heartwood is used: 70-80% of the tree is often wasted.

The devastated forests left behind also no longer provide the charcoal and traditional medicines used by indigenous communities. “It is at the heart of our rural communities,” said Niger’s Cites delegate. “The demand from Asia threatens directly threatens their livelihoods.”

Lisa Handy, at the EIA, said: “We are really thrilled [with the new Cites protection]. It’s really in the nick of time to save them from extinction. The trade has exploded exponentially in the last decade. Now it really comes down to enforcement.”

The importance of protecting the entire Dalbergia genus of rosewood is that criminals can no longer pass off illegal rosewood as one of the previously unprotected species. “Officials have great difficulty in distinguishing between species,” said Guatemala’s delegate to Cites. “It is very difficult for people who are not experts, and even sometimes for the experts themselves.”

“This [summit] will be remembered for rosewood and pangolin protection,” said Brazil’s delegate, who said there would have been nothing left within three years without action.

The Cites summit also applied new protection to an African rosewood from another genus, known as Kosso, which grows in the dry forests of west Africa. It was barely exported in 2009 but exploitation has since soared and it is now is now the main rosewood timber imported by China. “The forests have been emptied,” said Benin’s delegate to Cites.

Some rosewood species can still be logged under the new rules, but will require permits that should only be granted if it is deemed sustainable. The rules could be revisited in the final Cites session next week, but this is unlikely. Rosewood is also used to make some musical instruments, such as guitars, but the new rules will not prevent musicians travelling with their instruments.

The new protections enter into force in 90 days, but need action by individual nations to have an impact. In 2013, Cites gave similar protection to every rosewood species in Madagascar, where rampant logging was taking place.

However, the EIA says the Madagascan government has failed to carry out its enforcement commitments and, in May 2016, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called on Madagascar to end corruption and “fight the illegal trafficking of natural treasures”.

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Shoppers in England now far more likely to use their own bags

Study finds a rise in the number of people carrying their own bags since the introduction of a 5p charge on plastic bags nearly a year ago
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 29 Sep 16;

Shoppers in England have become much more likely to take their own bags to the high street since the introduction of a plastic bag charge nearly a year ago, a study has found.

More than nine in 10 people now often or always carry their own bags, up from seven in 10 before the 5p charge came into effect, and the public became much more supportive after it started. The number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets and big retailers in England has fallen by 85%.

The authors of the Cardiff University study said that the charge’s success suggested a charge on takeway coffee cups, an idea backed by campaigner and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and former environment minister George Eustice, could be successfully brought in too.

Support for the England bag charge went from five in 10 people to six in 10 after the 5p fee came into effect, and the number of shoppers sceptical that the charge would go to charity dropped significantly after its introduction. The charge had raised £29m for good causes by July.

“One thing that stood out to me was the effects were universal, there weren’t age, gender or income effects,” said lead author Prof Wouter Poortinga. “Everyone changed their behaviour and everyone increased their support for the charge. I think that is important.”

The research also revealed that the charge gave people in England an increased environmental awareness, and greater willingness to accept other waste policies too, such as a 5p charge on plastic bottles.

But Poortinga conceded that while the bag scheme’s success showed a coffee cup charge could work, that shift would likely be trickier. “It’s not exactly the same. It’s easier to adapt to a bag charge by bringing your own bag than by bringing your own cup. You have to find ways around the hassle factor,” he said.

The government has ruled out a coffee cup “tax”, though pressure for an end to the throwaway culture continued on Thursday with the launch of a ‘cupifesto’ by 140 environmental and social NGOs who said takeaway cups harm forests.

While single-use bag use has plummeted in England – as in Wales and Scotland who brought in charges earlier – the study found some evidence that people were building up bag for life mountains at home.

“We asked people to estimate how many bags for life they have at home: in England it went from 6.5 to nine [after the charge]. In Wales it’s around 11. People are buying more bags for life than they really need. It seems it is accumulating a little bit,” said Poortinga.

The study suggests the government should do away with the exemptions in the England scheme, which excludes small retailers. The study’s survey found a majority of participants backed a blanket charge across England, Scotland and Wales, which Poortinga said would be much more straightforward.

The research involved a nationally representative survey with Ipsos Mori of people before, just after and six months after the England charge, as well as diaries and interviews, and observations of shoppers at four supermarkets.

Respondents in their diaries said they found the scheme easy to adapt to, despite predictions of “chaos” from some newspapers on its introduction.

“It [the bag charge] makes people think about what they’re doing, and stops them from being lazy. It makes people think ahead and plan, and not just take things for granted,” wrote one woman in England shortly after the charge. Another said: “I really think that along with carrier bags, the issue of other plastic going to waste should be looked at.”

A spokesman for the environment department said: “These latest figures show that this great progress is the result of a real change in our behaviour - many more of us now stop, think and take a bag with us before heading out to the shops.”

Efforts to cut plastic waste received another boost on Wednesday, when Lidl said it would remove single-use plastic bags from all its stores across England, Scotland and Wales by the start of July next year. The supermarket said it was making the move because of its commitment to “reduce unnecessary plastic waste” and estimated the change would save 63m bags annually.

Six billion plastic bags can’t be wrong – so what do we tax next?
In the first six months of the 5p charge in England, 6bn fewer bags were handed out. Watch out coffee cups and plastic bottles
Patrick Barkham The Guardian 2 Oct 16;

Once, my family’s kitchen cupboard would have contained dozens of plastic bags. But today – a year after the introduction of England’s 5p plastic bag charge – I count just six (three secondhand ones, given to us by other people, one corner-shop bag and two small bags supplied with meat and fish).

England’s plastic bag charge was a long time coming – long after Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – and critics predicted its exemptions for small stores and paper bags would diminish its effectiveness. A year ago, Andy Cummins, campaigns director of Surfers Against Sewage, predicted that England’s charge would reduce use of plastic bags, but not as effectively as in Scotland, Wales (down 78%) and Northern Ireland (down 81%).

In fact, in the first six months of the charge, the number of single-use plastic bags handed out by the seven biggest supermarkets fell by more than 85% from 7.6bn a year in 2014 to 600m. In that period, the levy raised more than £29m for charities and community groups. A study by Cardiff University found that more than nine out of 10 people often or always carry their own bags, up from seven out of 10 before the 5p charge came into effect.

Six billion fewer plastic bags in six months: Cummins is happy to be proved half-wrong. “It’s a fantastic success,” he says. “The vast majority have adapted their behaviour without a check in their stride. There will be a phenomenal net benefit for the environment from 6bn fewer bags.”

The Marine Conservation Society undertook its annual beach clean in September. Laura Foster, head of pollution, says that volunteers aren’t seeing plastic bags on the beach any more. “There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest a decline in plastic bags in our marine environment,” she says.

Single-use plastic bags may not be being discarded in their previous numbers, but there are reservations about their replacements. Bags for life and, in particular, cotton bags require much more energy – and carbon emissions – to produce. A study by the Environment Agency found a “resource expenditure” of just 2kg of carbon per plastic bag: a paper bag would need to be used seven times to achieve the same per-use expenditure; a cotton bag would need to be used 327 times.

Supreme Creations, which claims to be the world’s largest ethical packaging company, reports a 20% increase in sales of its reusable carrier bags since the levy was introduced in England. So, are we now creating reusable bag mountains? My family’s reusable bag stash currently stands at 15, but these include a cotton bag from the Devon town of Modbury, which I picked up in 2007 when I wrote about it being the first place in Europe to ban plastic bags. That has definitely had more than 300 uses, and so have our three large Ikea bags, which I take to the supermarket each week.

Surfers Against Sewage, Keep Britain Tidy and the Marine Conservation Society all say that there are no problems with reusable bags being littered on land or sea. “Because people pay for them, they value them and there is no tossing them away,” says Foster. What about the free ones? “Even if you get them for free, you hoard them,” says Cummins. “You need every bag you can get if your shopping is anything like mine.”

For analysts such as David Powell of the New Economics Foundation, the unequivocal success of the plastic bag charge shows that the government shouldn’t be afraid of using financial “nudges” in new environmental regulations. Who would imagine that a 5p charge changes human behaviour so decisively?

“By far the most interesting thing about the plastic bag charge is just how successful an incredibly small charge can be,” says Powell. “Introduce the right charge in the right way and people respond to it, particularly if there’s such an obvious environmental problem. The government will have to conclude, how can we use this principle for other things?”

The Cardiff University survey also reveals that the charge has made people in England more willing to accept regulations to reduce plastic waste, such as a 5p charge on plastic bottles. Plastic bags may have been litter’s poster child, but they amounted to just 2% of beach rubbish. Powell suggests a charge on coffee cups is an obvious next step. “There are massive piles of unrecycled coffee cups everywhere. It’s an obvious problem that people are keen to do something about.”

While the plastic-bag charge was about changing consumer behaviour, announcing a charge on coffee cups to apply at a future date would give the industry an incentive to innovate and find alternatives, rather like the sugar tax, which will apply from 2017.

Both Keep Britain Tidy and Surfers Against Sewage would like to see the government close the loopholes in England’s current plastic bag charge so that paper bags incur a charge, too, and small shops are no longer exempt (the Association of Convenience Stores wanted to be included in the charging system from the outset). However, a Defra spokesperson says there are currently no plans to extend the regulations.

“We walk into meetings with Defra where the position is: ‘The government doesn’t want new regulations.’ Unfortunately, that’s the default position,” says Cummins. He thinks the next example of a win-win regulation that would benefit consumers, industry and the environment is a deposit-return system for drinks bottles. Such systems are used in dozens of European countries from Germany to Croatia, and in Australian and American states, too.

Reverse vending machines that give people, say, 20p for their plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans deliver recycling rates of up to 90%, provide high-grade recyclable materials for industry, and save councils’ doorstep recycling and rubbish bin costs, argues Cummins. If placed on shop floors, they also encourage footfall; it’s not hard to imagine kids collecting bottles and quickly spending their earnings in the shops.

“We all know that litter breeds litter,” says Cummins. “If you can take these really visible litter items out of the environment with a successful deposit-return system, it will have a knock-on effect and everyone will treat their environment better.”

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Sep 16

Fishy business at Changi Creek
The Long and Winding Road

Pelagic Birding in the Straits of Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

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The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently

We are now living in a 400ppm world with levels unlikely to drop below the symbolic milestone in our lifetimes, say scientists.
Brian Kahn for Climate Central the Guardian 28 Sep 16;

In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate. At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million (ppm).

That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists.

Because carbon pollution has been increasing since the start of the industrial revolution and has shown no signs of abating, it was more a question of “when” rather than “if” we would cross this threshold. The inevitability doesn’t make it any less significant, though.

September is usually the month when carbon dioxide is at its lowest after a summer of plants growing and sucking it up in the northern hemisphere. As fall wears on, those plants lose their leaves, which in turn decompose, releasing the stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. At Mauna Loa Observatory, the world’s marquee site for monitoring carbon dioxide, there are signs that the process has begun but levels have remained above 400 ppm.

Since the industrial revolution, humans have been altering this process by adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than plants can take up. That’s driven carbon dioxide levels higher and with it, global temperatures, along with a host of other climate change impacts.

“Is it possible that October 2016 will yield a lower monthly value than September and dip below 400 ppm? Almost impossible,” Ralph Keeling, the scientist who runs the Scripps Institute for Oceanography’s carbon dioxide monitoring program, wrote in a blog post. “Brief excursions toward lower values are still possible, but it already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year – or ever again for the indefinite future.”

We may get a day or two reprieve in the next month, similar to August when Tropical Storm Madeline blew by Hawaii and knocked carbon dioxide below 400 ppm for a day. But otherwise, we’re living in a 400 ppm world. Even if the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, what has already put in the atmosphere will linger for many decades to come.

“At best (in that scenario), one might expect a balance in the near term and so CO2 levels probably wouldn’t change much – but would start to fall off in a decade or so,” Gavin Schmidt, Nasa’s chief climate scientist, said in an email. “In my opinion, we won’t ever see a month below 400 ppm.”

The carbon dioxide we’ve already committed to the atmosphere has warmed the world about 1.8F since the start of the industrial revolution. This year, in addition to marking the start of our new 400 ppm world, is also set to be thehottest year on record. The planet has edged right up against the 1.5C (2.7F) warming threshold, a key metric in last year’s Paris climate agreement.

Even though there are some hopeful signs that world leaders will take actions to reduce emissions, those actions will have to happen on an accelerating timetable in order to avoid 2C of warming. That’s the level outlined by policymakers as a safe threshold for climate change. And even if the world limits warming to that benchmark, it will still likely spell doom for low-lying small island states and have serious repercussions around the world, from more extreme heat waves to droughts, coastal flooding and the extinction of many coral reefs.

It’s against this backdrop that the measurements on top of Mauna Loa take on added importance. They’re a reminder that with each passing day, we’re moving further from the climate humans have known and thrived in and closer to a more unstable future.

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Cambodia: Government slams UN figures of sand exported to Singapore

Erin Handley Phnom Penh Post 28 Sep 16;

Government officials have denied the sand-dredging industry is mired in corruption in the wake of damning figures pointing to a 70-million-tonne hole in Cambodian sand-export numbers to Singapore.

Acting Minister for Mines and Energy Dith Tina yesterday cast doubt on the reliability of the data on the UN Commodity Trade (UN Comtrade) Statistics Database, which showed Cambodia claimed to have exported about 2.8 million tonnes of sand to Singapore – worth $5.5 million – over the past nine years.

In stark contrast, Singapore recorded importing 72.7 million tonnes of sand from Cambodia, at $752 million.

In his office yesterday, Tina entered random options into the database to highlight other discrepancies between importing and exporting countries, such as between Malaysia and Singapore, but would not comment on whether those differences amounted to $700 million.

He described media reports on the database as “misleading”, and said those crying corruption were potentially “politically motivated”.

“People who use this data seem unprofessional to me,” he said. “It’s not helpful to destroy their credibility when there is no concrete proof [of corruption].

“We don’t tolerate it.”

Tina said figures were extremely difficult for his ministry to track down as it gave priority to fighting illegal mining. However, he said, in 2015, Cambodia exported a total of 149,250 cubic metres (228,000 tonnes) of sand worldwide.

He could not give figures specific to Singapore or the dollar value of exports, but said the royalties collected by the state amounted to about $111,000 on both imported and exported sand products.

However, Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Soeng Sophary yesterday provided a document listing Cambodia’s sand exports to Singapore for the past nine years, including their weight and dollar value, which corresponded almost exactly to the figures on the UN Comtrade database, with one exception.

In 2013, UN data and Cambodia’s figures did not align. According to the database, Singapore imported 20,000 tonnes more than the Cambodian export document showed, valued at $45,000.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday dismissed Tina’s claims that there was no corruption in the sand-dredging industry. “I believe there is corruption, starting from the way the government is giving licences to the companies,” he said.

“We found the amount of sand imports to Singapore was many times more compared to what the government claimed it to be. Where did the money go?”

Chhay urged the government to be more transparent with issuing licences and said the full environmental toll should be made public. “Sand dredging is a dirty business, causing environmental impacts.”

Sand Export Figures Disputed
Khmer Times 28 Sep 16;

Dith Tina, a secretary of state and a spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, talked to Khmer Times about sand exports to Singapore after some local media claimed the exporting figures in this sector in Cambodia did not match the database of imports in Singapore.

KT: There have been stories in the local media claiming that Cambodia has lost about $700 million in revenue over eight years of exporting sand. What are your comments on this allegation?

Mr. Tina: The reporters called me to comment on what some NGO claims based on the UN Comtrade database. I declined to comment because our ministry is not involved in providing any figures to that database. Some media quoted figures showing a discrepancy from the UN Comtrade database between the total import figures in eight years by Singapore and the total export figures during the same period from Cambodia and automatically pointed to corruption of over $700 million. This is something we have to react to.

The difference in values between exporters and importers is not what one government lost but rather a different value in the trade and transport. I tried the UN Comtrade database with Spain as an exporter and the US as an importer on wood and articles of wood and there are millions of dollars in discrepancy between the value of the imports and exports. Does that imply any corruption or any wood or wood article smuggling between the US and Spain? Although UN Comtrade is a very convenient tool, a user has to understand that tool too. In this sense, the declaimer needs to be read first and the copyright and policy needs to be observed too.

I think it would be fair if the media dealing with UN Comtrade just quoted the UN Comtrade disclaimer for non-connoisseurs to understand, especially points five and six about limitations. I quote: “Imports reported by one country do not coincide with exports reported by its trading partner. Differences are due to various factors including valuation (imports CIF, exports FOB), differences in inclusions/exclusions of particular commodities, timing etc.

“Almost all countries report as partner countries for imports the country of origin...which is determined by the rules of origin established by each country...Hence, the term ‘partner country’ in the case of imports does not necessarily imply any direct trading relationship.”

This declaimer would give a reader a clearer opinion on the figures given by the tool rather than just its UN tag.

A user has to be aware of its copyright disclaimer which states that the data is provided for internal use only and may not be re-disseminated in any form without the written permission of the United Nations Statistics Division. I believe there must be a reason to set such a policy and copyright…and I took care to not infringe on this copyright by re-disseminating any figures.

KT: So, do you think figures provided by UN Comtrade are erroneous?

Mr. Tina: Once again, I won’t comment on UN Comtrade. I think people can make their own opinions based on the concrete figures given, the disclaimer and its policy. Our ministry is not involved in providing data to UN Comtrade, but we do have our own data as we collect royalties from licensees. In 2015, our data recorded a total of 149,250 cubic meters of sand exported, which is higher than the Cambodian export report in UN Comtrade, but lower than Singapore’s import report. The Ministry of Mines and Energy does not have the value to compare with the value in the database as we only deal with royalties. Customs will deal with tax.

So those who use this UN Comtrade as evidence to point out systematic $700 million of corruption might be jumping too quick to judge. I would advise them to try the same comparison with Singapore’s imports of sand versus other export partners like Vietnam, Malaysia or Philippines and to look for concrete proof if they want to fight corruption rather than pointing fingers at the whole institution.

KT: Don’t you think there is any corruption in the area?

Mr. Tina: I am not aware of any. We are all working hard to fight illegal mining, to harmonize the social cohesion between communities and mine concessionaires, to efficiently collect royalties and develop our mining resources. It would be rather unfair to look at our civil servants with suspicious eyes from hearsay. But if there is concrete proof of any corruption, we encourage people to file complaints to the competent authority so the innocent can keep on fulfilling their civil servant duties with pride.

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Zika cluster at Bishan St 12 closed: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 28 Sep 16

SINGAPORE: The Zika cluster located at Bishan St 12 (Blocks 122, 123 and 134) is the first Zika cluster to be closed since the first case of locally transmitted Zika virus infection was confirmed on Aug 27, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced in a media release on Wednesday (Sep 28).

The cluster was closed on Sep 19 after no new cases were reported there after two weeks, NEA said, adding that it has continued to keep the area under "close surveillance" and will continue to do so until Oct 10 this year, three weeks after the cluster was declared closed.

NEA said the continued surveillance period takes into account the incubation period of the Zika virus and the lifespan of the Aedes mosquito.

"Even though the cluster has closed, the NEA urges all residents and stakeholders to continue to maintain vigilance and keep to a high standard of housekeeping to eliminate all mosquito breeding habitats, as there could still be asymptomatic cases in the area, which might fuel further transmission of the virus if there are mosquitoes in the vicinity," the media release said.

The Bishan cluster was first announced on Sep 6, and a total of five Zika cases were reported.

"Since the cluster was notified, NEA had conducted inspections in residential premises and outdoor areas, including common areas in the estate. Eight mosquito breeding habitats – comprising two in homes and six in common areas/other premises – were detected and destroyed," the agency said.

NEA also said it appreciates the cooperation and vigilance from both residents and stakeholders in the area in contributing to the closure of the cluster.

"This includes residents who kept their premises free from mosquito breeding, grassroots volunteers and community leaders who organised the Mozzie Wipeout Movement over the weekends and conducted outreach efforts, as well as premises owners and members of the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force (IADTF), including the Town Council, for maintaining housekeeping in areas under their care," the release said.


In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Senior Minister of State for Health and for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor thanked various stakeholders for working together to contain the spread of the virus.

"The closure was possible because everybody in the community - residents, grassroots organisations, premises owners and the Town Council, played their part in staying vigilant and taking care to prevent mosquito breeding at their premises," she said.

She also urged members of the public to "maintain a high standard of housekeeping to prevent mosquito breeding, as there may still be asymptomatic cases in the area".


According to NEA, there are eight other Zika clusters located at Aljunied Crescent, Bedok North Ave 3, Joo Seng Road, Elite Terrace, Ubi Ave 1, Balam Road, Sengkang Central and Hougang Ave 7 as of Sep 27, 2016.

Out of these eight clusters, seven of them have not seen cases with an onset date in the past one week or more, NEA said.

"NEA is continuing with vector control operations and outreach efforts in the cluster areas," the release said. "When there are no cases with onset dates within the last two weeks at these clusters, they will also be closed under surveillance."

The agency also noted that Singapore's largest Zika cluster, located in Aljunied Crescent, has seen a drop in the number of cases reported. "At its peak, more than 20 cases were being reported there in a day, but this has dropped to about 29 cases in the past two weeks - approximately two cases per day," it said.

- CNA/dl

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Pangolins thrown a lifeline at global wildlife summit with total trade ban

World’s most illegally trafficked mammal wins total ban on international trade in all species under the strictest Cites protection possible
Damian Carrington The Guardian 28 Sep 16;

Pangolins, the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal, were thrown a lifeline at a global wildlife summit on Wednesday with a total trade ban in all species.

More than a million wild pangolins have been killed in the last decade, to feed the huge and rising appetite in China and Vietnam for its meat and its scales, a supposed medicine. The unique scaly anteaters are fast heading for extinction in Asia and poachers are now plundering Africa.

But the 182 nations of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) unanimously agreed a total ban on international trade on all species at the summit in Johannesburg, prompting cheers and applause from delegates.

Cites works to crack down on wildlife trafficking, currently a $20bn-a-year criminal enterprise, and to ensure the legal trade in food, skins, pets and traditional remedies does not threaten the survival of species. The summit also boosted protection for the barbary ape on Wednesday, Europe’s only wild primate, and a spectacular-horned mountain goat.

The four Asian species of pangolin – Indian, Philippine, Sunda and Chinese - have been decimated by illegal poaching. The animals breed slowly and are easy to catch – they simply roll up when threatened. “It is an effective strategy against a hungry lion, but a disadvantage when approached by a human collector,” said Nigeria’s delegate, who added that the price of pangolin scales has risen tenfold in last five years.

The rampant scale of the black market has been revealed by frequent huge seizures: Indonesian authorities confiscated and burned thousands of frozen pangolins in 2015, while a Chinese ship which ran aground in the Philippines in 2013 was carrying 10 tonnes of pangolin. But traffickers have increasingly targeted the four African species: giant, South African, long-tailed and white-bellied. In June, more than 11 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized in Hong Kong in just two shipments from Africa.

Vietnam’s delegate said the upgrading of pangolins to Cites appendix 1 on Wednesday – the strictest protection possible – was critical for the survival of the Sunda and Chinese pangolins in particular, which are critically endangered. The move will pressure affected nations into tougher law enforcement and higher penalties for criminals.

Indonesia was the only nation to oppose the new protection for Sunda and Chinese pangolins, while China abstained, noting that pangolins are also caught for bushmeat in many countries and that habitat loss is also a factor. Laos supported the Asian pangolin proposals, but the Guardian revealed on Tuesday how senior Laos officials have cut deals with wildlife traffickers.

“This is a huge win and rare piece of good news for some of the world’s most trafficked and endangered animals,” said Ginette Hemley, head of the WWF delegation to Cites. “This eliminates any question about legality of trade, making it harder for criminals to traffic them and increasing the consequences for those who do.” She said efforts to reduce the demand in China and Vietnam were vital too.

“This decision will help give pangolins a fighting chance,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The world is standing up for the little guy with this pivotal decision. These species need extra protection and now they will get it.”

Like pangolins, the protection for the endangered barbary ape – the only wild primate in Europe – was increased to the highest level. The population of the ape, found in Gibraltar, Morocco and Algeria, has at least halved in the last 30 years, to as few as 6,500.

Many barbary apes, mostly infants, are illegally captured each year, largely for the European exotic pet trade and to be used as props for tourist photos. Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, MEP and head of the European parliament delegation to Cites, said: “This is a key next step in protecting a species for which the EU is unfortunately a key destination market.”

Some of the Cites decisions on Wednesday removed existing protection from species where conservation efforts have been successful. South Africa won unanimous support for the removal of the strictest protection from the Cape mountain Zebra. Its population is now growing at 9% a year, with 4,800 living in the country.

The protection for the endangered barbary ape - the only wild primate in Europe - was increased to the highest level.
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The protection for the endangered barbary ape - the only wild primate in Europe - was increased to the highest level. Photograph: Bruno D'Amicis/NPL/Alamy Stock Photo
“It is one of the success stories of large mammals in South Africa” said South Africa’s environment minister, Edna Molewa. “It is no longer at risk of extinction.” The looser protection will allow more trophy hunting, which South Africa says provides incentives for conservation efforts on private land.

The wood bison, one of the two subspecies of American bison, was completely removed from the Cites protective list on Wednesday, as its population has grown to 9,000 and is not threatened by poaching. There are about 500,000 American bison in total, far fewer than the 20 million or more that once roamed the continent.

Also on Wednesday, Georgia and the EU gained some protection for the western tur, a mountain goat with spectacular horns found only in the Caucasus mountains. The population of the goat, hunted as trophies, has fallen from 12,000 to 4,000 in Georgia in the last 30 years. Russia, which hosts 20,000 of the goats, had opposed the proposal, arguing the goat was already well protected and that trophy hunting encouraged gave conservation and helped prevent poaching.

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New report finds no slowdown in tiger trafficking

TRAFFIC 29 Sep 16;

Johannesburg, South Africa, 29th September 2016—a new report from TRAFFIC and WWF finds no evidence of a decline in tiger trafficking across Asia, with parts equating to a minimum of 1755 tigers seized between 2000 and 2015—an average of more than two animals per week.

Published ahead of a critical debate on the illegal tiger trade at the world’s largest wildlife trade meeting underway in South Africa, Reduced to Skin and Bones Re-examined found there had been 801 recorded seizures of tigers and tiger products across Asia since 2000.

With only an estimated 3,900 tigers left in the wild, evidence indicates that an increasing number of seized animals undoubtedly originate from captive breeding operations: at least 30% of the tigers seized in 2012-2015 were known to be of captive-sourced tigers. It is widely believed this increase in live seizures is directly related to the rise in tiger farms.

While the largest number of overall seizures was reported by India, there is evidence that traffickers are still exploiting a previously-identified trade route stretching from Thailand to Viet Nam through Laos — three countries where the number of tiger farms has risen.

“This analysis provides clear evidence that illegal trade in tigers, their parts and products, persists as an important conservation concern. Despite repeated government commitments to close down tiger farms in Asia, such facilities are flourishing and playing an increasing role in fuelling illegal trade,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC.

This week representatives from more than 180 countries meet at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and flora (CITES) and conservationists will be urging those countries with tiger farms – including China, Viet Nam, Thailand and Laos – to commit to providing a clear timeframe for the phasing out and final closure of these facilities.

Last week, Laos announced it would discuss ways to phase out its tiger farms after the country was highlighted at CITES for its lack of regulation and control over wildlife trade. Thailand has also cracked down on the infamous Tiger Temple and pledged to investigate all tiger breeding facilities.

“Criminal networks are increasingly trafficking captive bred tigers around Asia, undermining law enforcement efforts and helping to fuel demand. Tiger range countries must rapidly close their farms or wild tigers will face a future only as skin and bones,” said Ginette Hemley, WWF Head of CITES Delegation. “Laos and Thailand have announced steps in the right direction but they need to act now and other countries should swiftly follow the same path marked ‘close all tiger farms’.”

Recent seizures have highlighted hotspots for trafficking in Vietnam, which has come under scrutiny at the CITES conference for its lack of progress in tackling the illegal trade in rhino horn, ivory and tigers.

In a move to combat the poaching of tigers collaboratively, India is asking other governments at CoP17 to share photographic evidence of seized tiger skins for comparison with camera trap images of wild tigers held in a database. Each tiger’s stripe pattern is unique, much like a person’s fingerprints, so this would help enforcement agencies and tiger biologists to identify poached tigers and trace their origins.

There has been an international ban on the trade in tigers and their products for decades yet poaching for the illegal trade remains the greatest direct threat to their survival.

“Critical decisions cannot be put off until the next CITES meeting in three years’ time or we risk undermining recent important gains in tiger conservation,” said Hemley.


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Malaysia: Having rare species puts Sabah on the mangrove

Daily Express 28 Sep 16;

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah can become a world centre for mangroves and one advantage in realising this is the recent discovery of an extremely rare mangrove tree species – Bruguiera hainesii – in one of the islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, off the State Capital.
"Having the tree here is equivalent to China having pandas," Singaporean plant scientist Prof Dr Jean Yong said.

"The tree species can become another exciting tourism attraction for Sabah."

He said he came to learn about the tree from one Wong Yun Yun, a Malaysia from Penang.

"I provided the scientific confirmation," he said.

The tree grows up to 35 metres, he said, adding that there is another rare species in the peninsula.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the Bruguiera hainesii is very rare and has a limited and patchy distribution.

There are approximately 200 known mature individuals remaining in Singapore, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea, and there has been at least 27pc loss of mangrove area in this species range over a 25-year period (less than one generation length) due to extensive coastal development.

The international body has listed it as Critically Endangered.

Hence, he suggested that Sabah take the initiative to set up the world's first centre for mangrove tree species as there are 61 mangrove species in the world of which 53 are in Malaysia.

Dr Yong suggested that information about the existence of the tree in the State be promoted widely within the industry.

Dr Yong announced the discovery to participants in the Second International Symposium on Conservation and Management of Wetlands, Tuesday.

The two-day symposium's theme is "Wetlands: Connectivity, Corridors & Catchments that aims to identify new and innovative ways to conserve wetlands as well as to understand the scientific basis and importance of local stakeholders' involvement in conservation and management of wetlands.

According to Dr Yong, a former associate professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, a holistic approach must be applied in Wetlands conservation and management.

"Key to protecting wetlands is that you need integrated solutions, meaning you have to go from the terrestrial forests down to agriculture lands and coming through urban areas and going down to river.

"To keep mangroves you need to have the whole drainage pattern. That's fundamental," he said.

He also stressed that it is important for people to be aware that mangroves are not limited to the sea areas.

"There are three major types including fresh water mangroves," he said, adding Sabah has all three types.

The symposium was officiated by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun who announced that the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands may attain its RAMSAR status sometime next month, after a long wait.

Also present at the symposium's opening were Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society president Datuk Zainie Abdul Aucasa and organising chairperson Dr Rahimatsah Amat.

Various topics are covered in plenary sessions by local and international experts throughout the two-day symposium.

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Malaysia: Semenyih factory main culprit of river pollution

The Star 29 Sep 16;

PETALING JAYA: A factory in the Semenyih Hi-Tech Park caused the river pollution that resulted in water supply disruption to over a million homes in the Hulu Langat, Petaling Jaya, Kuala Langat and Sepang districts last Saturday.

Kumpulan Air Selangor corporate communications department head Amin Lin Abdullah said initial investigations confirmed that pollution from the industrial park had affected Lalang River, which provides raw water to the Semenyih treatment plant.

“We have zoomed in on the industrial park as the source of the river’s pollution.

“We are now focusing on identifying the factory responsible for the discharge,” he said yesterday.

He said identifying the factory was a tedious process as the Semenyih Hi-Tech Park has several hundred factories operating.

“We are going on the ground to take water samples.

“Investigations will not stop until we find the source of the pollution,” he added.

Amin Lin added that water samples were being analysed by Air Selangor and an independent company to determine the pollutant involved.

Preliminary test results of raw water samples found no hazardous substances such as sulphide, formaldehyde, selenium, anionic detergent, cyanide and mineral oil.

Sungai Semenyih is the main waterway from the Semenyih dam to the treatment plant about 55km away, and this facility produces more than 630 million litres of clean water daily for consumers.

On Wednesday, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Dr Maximus Ongkili said the culprit that caused the pollution would be punished.

Dr Ongklili said such incidents affected the lives of people and could not be tolerated.

The Selangor government has said that it would revoke the licence of the factory responsible.

Source of water pollution at Semenyih plant to be known in a week's time
BERNAMA New Straits Times 29 Sep 16;

SHAH ALAM: The source of water pollution which resulted the Semenyih water treatment plant being shut down and causing water supply disruption in Selangor will be known in a week’s time, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said authorities were still investigating whether it was caused by the industrial sector or otherwise.

“The plant operators have taken water samples to be analysed following complaints about foul smell emanating from the water.

Subsequently, we have also examined about 226 factories in the vicinity, but investigations had so far not shown any links to the premises as the source of the water pollution,” he told reporters after opening the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (JPS) Senior Managers’ Meeting 2016 here, today.

The Semenyih water treatment plant had been closed several times previously due to odour pollution which affected several areas including Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat, Sepang and Petaling.

According to reports, the pollution may have stemmed from Sungai Lalang at the High Technology Industrial Area in Semenyih. --BERNAMA

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Indonesia: Eggs of rare turtles from Riau traded in Pontianak

Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 28 Sep 16;

Authorities in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, recently confiscated more than 260 eggs of rare turtles allegedly smuggled from Riau Islands province.

Officials are investigating the case to uncover the suppliers of the turtle eggs.

The case emerged with the confiscation of 139 turtle eggs by officials of the local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) at Dwikora Port, Pontianak.

The West Kalimantan BKSDA head, Sustyo Iriono, said the turtle eggs were seized on Sept. 20 from a woman who said she received them as gifts from relatives on Serasan Island near Tambelan Island, Riau Islands province.

On Saturday, the BKSDA team arrested a 16-year-old suspected of selling turtle eggs on a section of road in Pontianak and seized 125 turtle eggs.

“The teenager said he was told to sell the eggs by his cousin and that the eggs came from Tanjung Pinang, Riau Islands,” Sustyo told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, adding that the eggs were being sold for Rp 2,500 each.

The two suspects so far have been required to sign statements declaring that they would not repeat the offense. Sustyo said the cases would be developed to target suppliers that they suspected were involved in the turtle egg trade network in the city.

West Kalimantan have turtle habitats in various areas, such as the Paloh coast, Sambas regency, where the collection of turtle eggs for consumption is a serious threat to two species in the region.

The 63-kilometer-long Paloh coast is a habitat of green and hawksbills turtles. It is the longest coastline in the country.

The Word Wide Fund (WWF) Indonesia’s West Kalimantan program recorded more than 2,000 green turtle nests a year at Paloh Beach, making it the place with the second-biggest population of turtles along the chain, which spans from the Malay Peninsula to the Sulu Sea, Sulawesi.

A marine biodiversity conservation officer of the WWF Indonesia’s West Kalimantan program, Hendro Susanto, said the monitoring of the turtles continued to collect data on the number of missing or raided turtle nests. The move involves, among other things, former turtle egg collectors.

“Provisional data show that turtle egg hunting continues decreasing thanks to the intensive dissemination of information that the activity is illegal,” Hendro said, adding that one turtle nest could contain up to 100 eggs.

Hendro also said turtles existed in prehistoric days and could live for up to 150 years but only started to lay eggs at 30 to 50 years of age.

The high price and proximity to Malaysia have been blamed for triggering an increase in the illegal trade of turtle eggs to Malaysia. Melano Bay in Sarawak, Malaysia, is only some 10 kilometers from the outmost village in Paloh district.

To help curb turtle egg theft, a number of programs conducted jointly with the community have been introduced, including an annual festival in which information is disseminated during entertainment.

Other programs include encouraging locals to run home industries producing various handmade crafts using turtles as a theme.

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The cost of cheap drugs? Toxic Indian lake is 'superbug hotspot'

Channel NewsAsia 29 Sep 16;

HYDERABAD, India: Centuries ago, Indian princes would bathe in the cool Kazhipally lake in Medak. Now, even the poorest villagers here in India's baking south point to the barren banks and frothy water and say they avoid going anywhere near it.

A short drive from the bustling tech hub of Hyderabad, Medak is the heart of India's antibiotics manufacturing business: a district of about 2.5 million that has become one of the world's largest suppliers of cheap drugs to most markets, including the United States.

But community activists, researchers and some drug company employees say the presence of more than 300 drug firms, combined with lax oversight and inadequate water treatment, has left lakes and rivers laced with antibiotics, making this a giant Petri dish for anti-microbial resistance.

"Resistant bacteria are breeding here and will affect the whole world," said Kishan Rao, a doctor and activist who has been working in Patancheru, a Medak industrial zone where many drug manufacturers have bases, for more than two decades.

Drugmakers in Medak, including large Indian firms Dr Reddy's Laboratories Ltd, Aurobindo Pharma Ltd and Hetero Drugs Ltd, and U.S. giant Mylan Inc, say they comply with local environmental rules and do not discharge effluent into waterways.

National and local government are divided on the scale of the problem.

While the Central Pollution Control Board (PCB) in New Delhi categorizes Medak's Patancheru area as "critically polluted", the state PCB says its own monitoring shows the situation has improved.

The rise of drug-resistant "superbugs" is a growing threat to modern medicine, with the emergence in the past year of infections resistant to even last-resort antibiotics.

In the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million serious infections and 23,000 deaths annually, according to health officials.

Thirteen leading drugmakers promised last week to clean up pollution from factories making antibiotics as part of a drive to fight the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, while United Nations member countries pledged for the first time to take steps to tackle the threat.


Patancheru is one of the main pharmaceutical manufacturing hubs in Telangana state, where the sector accounts for around 30 percent of GDP, according to commerce ministry data. Drug exports from state capital Hyderabad are worth around US$14 billion annually.

Local doctor Rao pointed to studies by scientists from Sweden's University of Gothenburg that have found very high levels of pharmaceutical pollution in and around Kazhipally lake, along with the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes.

The scientists have been publishing research on pollution in the area for nearly a decade. Their first study, in 2007, said antibiotic concentrations in effluent from a treatment plant used by drug factories were higher than would be expected in the blood of patients undergoing a course of treatment. That effluent was discharged into local lakes and rivers, they said.

"The polluted lakes harbored considerably higher proportions of ciprofloxacin-resistant and sulfamethoxazole-resistant bacteria than did other Indian and Swedish lakes included for comparison," said their latest report, in 2015, referring to the generic names of two widely used antibiotics.

Those findings are disputed by local government officials and industry representatives.

The Hyderabad-based Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association of India (BDMAI) said the state pollution control board had found no antibiotics in its own study of water in Kazhipally lake. The state PCB did not provide a copy of this report, despite several requests from Reuters.

"I have not seen any credible report that says that the drugs are no longer there," Joakim Larsson, a professor of environmental pharmacology at the University of Gothenburg who led the first Swedish study and took part in the others, told Reuters by email.

"There might very well have been improvements, but without data, I do not know."


Local activists and researchers say the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) built in Medak in the 1990s was ill-equipped to handle large volumes of pharmaceutical waste.

After protests and court cases brought by local villagers a 20-km (12-mile) pipeline was built to take effluent to another plant near Hyderabad. But activists say that merely diverted the problem - waste sent there, they say, mixes with domestic sewage before the treated effluent is discharged into the Musi river.

A study published this year by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, found very high levels of broad-spectrum antibiotics in the Musi, a tributary of the Krishna, one of India's longest rivers.

Local government officials responsible for the plants did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Nearly a dozen current and former officials from companies producing medicines in Patancheru told Reuters that factory staff from various firms often illegally dump untreated chemical effluent into boreholes inside plants, or even directly into local water bodies at night.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity and Reuters was unable to independently verify those allegations.

Major manufacturers in the area, including Dr Reddy's and Mylan, said they operated so-called zero liquid discharge (ZLD) technology and processed waste onsite.

"Mylan is not dumping any effluent into the environment, borewells or the CETP," said spokeswoman Nina Devlin.

Dr Reddy's said it recycled water onsite and complied with all environmental regulations.

The same industry officials who spoke to Reuters said the pollution control board rarely checked waste-treatment practices at factories, adding that penalties for breaches were meager.

The Telangana state government did not respond to requests for comment.

"We are aware some companies are releasing more than the allowed effluent, but they are profit-making companies," said state PCB spokesman N. Raveendher. "We do try and take action against the offenders, but we cannot kill the industry also."

Many smaller companies also lacked the funds to install expensive machinery for treating waste, he added.


A series of local court cases have been filed stretching back two decades, accusing drug companies of pollution and local authorities of poor checks. In some cases, companies have been ordered to pay annual compensation to villagers, but many are still grinding through India's tortuous legal system.

Wahab Ahmed, 50, owns five acres of land near the shores of Kazhipally lake, where he grew rice until a decade ago. He says the worsening industrial pollution from several nearby pharmaceutical factories left his land barren.

"We have protested, sued, and done all sorts of things over the years ... that's how some of us are now getting around 1,700 rupees (roughly US$20) a year from the companies," he said.

"But what can you do with that small sum today?"

More than 200 companies were named as respondents in the case he was referring to, filed by a non-profit organization on behalf of villagers.

While pollution of farmland is a serious problem for villagers who depend on it for their livelihood, the potential incubation of "superbugs" in Medak's waterways has wider implications.

The issue is particularly worrisome in India, where many waterways also contain harmful bacteria from human sewage. The more such bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the greater the chances they will mutate and render such drugs ineffective against them.

The risk is that resistant bacteria would then infect people and be spread by travel.

So far, most of the focus worldwide on antimicrobial resistance has been on over-use of drugs in human medicine and farming.

"Pollution from antibiotic factories is a third big factor in causing antimicrobial resistance," the chairman of one of the world's largest drugmakers told Reuters. "But it is largely overlooked."

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in LONDON; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques and Alex Richardson)

- Reuters

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Lightning storms knock out power to entire Australian state

Channel NewsAsia 28 Sep 16;

SYDNEY: Severe storms and thousands of lightning strikes knocked out power to the entire state of South Australia on Wednesday, authorities said, leading to port closures and commuter chaos.

South Australia is the country's fifth most populous state, with 1.7 million people and Adelaide as its capital, and is a major wine producer and traditional manufacturing hub.

The Bureau of Meteorology said a vigorous cold front was moving across the state with an intense low pressure system due on Thursday.

"We'll have gale force winds and large seas (across the south of the country); also heavy rain and thunderstorms, which will lead to renewed river rises," it said on its website.

SA Power Networks said repairs to its transmission network were underway.

"There were more than 21,000 lightning strikes recorded over a 12-hour period from midday yesterday on the West Coast, and as a result it is likely some damage has occurred to our distribution network," it said.

The state had been brought to a standstill, with ports closed, trains and trams stopped, traffic lights out and long commuter delays, state agencies said.

South Australia was relying on accessing power from Australia's populous east coast via a power interconnector with the neighbouring state of Victoria when there was a failure on Wednesday.

No power was flowing from Victoria into South Australia, said a spokesman for the Australian Energy Market Operator, which operates the power systems in southern and eastern Australia.

When the state tried to compensate, it experienced what is known as a "voltage collapse", Simon Emms, executive manager of network services at network operator ElectraNet, told ABC Radio, due to storm damage to power lines. This led to a statewide outage.

A spokeswoman for Electranet said power was being restored to some areas of Adelaide, but could not say when the lights would go on across the state.

"Now, clearly, questions will be raised," Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg told Sky News. "Serious questions will be raised that need to be answered as to how this extreme weather event could take out the whole of the electricity supply across a major state such as South Australia."

The impact was wide-ranging, with traffic coming to a standstill in Adelaide while power supplies were disrupted to BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine, a huge mining operation more than 500 km (300 miles) to the northwest.

A BHP spokesman said back-up power generation was being used to run critical infrastructure.

(Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Sep 16

Our smooth-coated otters spark an excitement about our marine life!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Changi dock's days may be numbered

The dock just beside Changi Point Ferry Terminal is used by Singapore and Malaysian fish farmers to unload their haul. Pulau Ubin residents also use it to transport bulky items.
Audrey Tan Straits Times 28 Sep 16;

The authorities are considering closing the dock beside Changi Point Ferry Terminal in the wake of a recent case of cigarette smuggling, The Straits Times has learnt.

The dock, located along Changi Creek, is used by Singapore and Malaysian fish farmers who come in every morning with their boats filled with live seafood.

The fish and prawn hauls are hoisted with rope or lorries with mechanical crane arms over a sea wall and onto the waiting trucks of restaurant suppliers. Residents of Pulau Ubin also use the dock to transport bulky items.

Fish farmers said they were told at a meeting with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) last week that it is considering closing the dock over "national security and safety concerns".

This includes concerns over how the dock - essentially a raised platform with a moveable rail on the sea wall - could be used as a smuggling conduit for cigarettes, narcotics and pets, for example.

The lack of a proper berthing area and high platform level were also cited as safety risks, according to PowerPoint presentation slides seen by The Straits Times. It is not known if any accident has occurred at the site before.

"AVA told us they wanted to close the dock within the next two to three months because someone was caught smuggling cigarettes there recently," said Mr Phillip Lim, 54, a Changi fish farmer who was at the AVA meeting. He said about 50 fish farms in the area use the dock to transport produce.

In July, Singapore Customs officers intercepted a lorry in Bukit Batok and found 15,960 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes in styrofoam boxes. Investigations showed the cigarettes were loaded at Changi Creek from a boat registered to a coastal fish farm. Four men and a woman were arrested by Singapore Customs and the Police Coast Guard for suspected involvement.

Mr Lim said the AVA suggested two alternative locations for fish farmers to use should the Changi facility be closed: the Lorong Halus jetty near Punggol and the Senoko Fishery Port in Admiralty.

While these locations offer facilities for mooring, loading and unloading, fish farmers say they have none of the amenities of Changi, such as hawker centres, coffee shops and provision shops.

Mr Ong Tian Huat, 60, who runs a fish farm a five-minute boat ride from Changi, said: "It will take me about two hours to reach Senoko. By then, all the fish would have died. Fuel costs will also go up."

He also said fish farmers who use the dock have taken measures such as hiring a security firm to send a guard to patrol the area from 7am to 7pm. He added: "If national security is truly a concern, the authorities should consider getting a policeman to patrol the area as well."

Pulau Ubin residents who use the dock to transport bulky items were dismayed to hear that it may close.

Ms Chew York Kuan, 55, one of the island's 37 residents, said the dock is important for business. She runs the family-owned Chew Teck Seng Provision Shop with her siblings. "We are not sure what our options are - if we have to use the passenger ferry terminal, we will have to hire more workers to carry the items up and down the steps," said Ms Chew in Mandarin. "If that happens, our costs will go up, and we may have to pass it on to the customers, who may complain."

Mr Lim said that instead of closing the dock, the authorities could install more closed-circuit television cameras and implement a neighbourhood watch system.

When asked, the authorities stated: "Due to the heightened security climate, various agencies such as AVA and Police Coast Guard are working together to engage stakeholders (for example, coastal fish farmers, fish traders, etc) on the security measures to be deployed at Changi Creek. (Their) feedback will be taken into consideration."

Beef up security instead of closing dock
Straits Times Forum 30 Sep 16;

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is reportedly considering closing the dock along Changi Creek due to a recent case of smuggling, as well as national security and safety concerns ("Changi dock's days may be numbered"; Wednesday).

I find this puzzling. Shouldn't maritime matters and security, and the operation of the dock, come under the purview of authorities such as Singapore Customs and the Police Coast Guard? In what capacity is the AVA exercising authority over the maritime facility?

Closing down the dock seems to be a knee-jerk reaction that is unhealthy for our country's economy and food security.

The Police Coast Guard is enhancing security at Marina Reservoir to support major events that are staged in that area ("Police beef up waterway security with 2 new boats"; Wednesday).

Couldn't it do the same for the waters around Changi, and protect the livelihoods of the fish farmers and support their efforts to contribute to our country's food security?

Jerome Teo Zhen Peng

Fate of dock at Changi Creek on the line
The dock at Changi Creek may close following a recent case of cigarette smuggling
Joseph Lee and Iskandar Rossali capture the mood at the dock The New Paper 4 Oct 16;

It's just a raised platform with a moveable rail on the sea wall.

But the simple Changi Creek dock is used by more than 10 different seafood trading companies for business daily.

Every morning, local and Malaysian fish farmers arrive at the dock - a stone's throw away from the Changi Point Ferry Terminal - with their boats laden with live seafood.

The fish and prawn hauls are then loaded onto waiting trucks of restaurant suppliers.

Residents of Pulau Ubin also use the dock to transport bulky items.

But all that could end - fish farmers said that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) is considering closing the dock over "national security and safety concerns".

Once these trucks are loaded with seafood, they are deliver their cargo to restaurants. TNP PHOTO: ISKANDAR ROSSALI
This follows an incident in July, when Singapore Customs officers traced 15,960 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes in styrofoam boxes on a lorry in Bukit Batok to a boat registered to a coastal fish farm off Pulau Ubin.

The cigarettes were loaded onto the lorry at Changi Creek.

The authorities are now seeking feedback and working to engage stakeholders on the security measures to be deployed at Changi Creek. A decision by the authorities is yet to be made.

Mr Phillip Lim, 54, a Changi fish farmer, said the AVA suggested two alternative locations for fish farmers to use should the Changi facility be closed: the Lorong Halus jetty near Punggol and the Senoko Fishery Port in Admiralty.


Traders play a large role in the seafood trade as they buy seafood from fish farms and from more traditional fishermen and they sell them to seafood restaurants all around Singapore. TNP PHOTO: ISKANDAR ROSSALI
But Mr Ong Tian Huat, 60, who runs a fish farm a five-minute boat ride from Changi, said: "It will take me about two hours to reach Senoko. By then, all the fish would have died."

Ms Chew York Kuan, 55, who helps run the family-owned Chew Teck Seng Provision Shop, said the dock is important for business.

"If we have to use the passenger ferry terminal, we will have to hire more workers to carry the items up and down the steps," she said.

"If that happens, our costs will go up."

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Slight haze possible with dry weather expected in Sumatra: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 27 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Dry weather conditions are expected over parts of northern and central Sumatra, Indonesia in the next few days, and Singapore could see slightly hazy conditions if the number of hotspots in Sumatra increase, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday (27 Sep).

In a media statement, NEA added that 13 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Tuesday although no visible smoke plumes or haze was seen.

With thundery showers expected over parts of Singapore on Wednesday morning, the country's air quality is expected to remain largely unchanged over the next day: The one-hour PM2.5 concentration over the next 24 hours is expected to remain in Band I (Normal) and the PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the Moderate range.

- CNA/dt

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Singapore population rises 1.3% to 5.61 million

Channel NewsAsia 27 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Even as more Singaporeans had babies last year, Singapore’s population growth remained low, rising 1.3 per cent to reach 5.61 million in June.

The statistics, released on Tuesday (Sep 27) by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in its annual Population in Brief report, also showed that the number of citizens rose by 1 per cent to 3.41 million, through births and immigration.

The number of permanent residents (PRs) remained relatively stable at 520,000, compared to 530,000 in June 2015.

The non-resident population – largely comprised of foreigners working in Singapore and their families, as well as students – grew by 2.5 per cent to 1.67 million, compared to 2.1 per cent the previous year. Stronger growth was seen in the number of foreign domestic workers and Singaporeans’ dependents on long-term visit passes, the NPTD noted in its report.

Measures taken by the Government to mitigate the inflow of foreigners saw foreign employment growth from June 2015 to June 2016 – excluding foreign domestic helpers – remaining low at 27,000 after reaching a high of 77,000 in 2012. But the number was higher compared to a year ago, when 23,000 foreign employment – excluding maids – grew by 23,000.

“Foreign workforce growth will continue to be moderated to supplement our local workforce in a sustainable manner. To stay competitive in a tight labour market, businesses will need to re-design jobs and restructure to become more manpower-lean and productive,” the NPTD said.

There were 20,815 new citizens last year, largely unchanged from the previous three years. About 38.9 per cent of them were aged 20 and below, 13.4 per cent aged between 21 and 30, 27.1 per cent aged between 31 and 40, and 20.5 per cent aged above 40.

The majority (58.7 per cent) of the new citizens were from other Southeast Asian countries, while 35 per cent were from other parts of Asia and 6.3 per cent from other countries outside of Asia.

The Government takes a “calibrated approach to immigration”, and plans to continue taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year to prevent the citizen population from shrinking, the report said.

- CNA/cy

Singapore’s population grows 1.3% to 5.6 million
AMANDA LEE Today Online 28 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s population grew 1.3 per cent to reach 5.6 million as of June, amid a spike in the number of births last year, while the citizen population continues to age, the annual population brief released on Thursday (Sept 27) by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) showed.

And despite the slowing economy, foreign employment growth increased by 27,000 from June last year to June this year, reversing the declining trend since 2011-2012 — from 77,000 that year, the figure moderated to 60,000, 33,000, then 23,000.

Analysts said this phenomenon was not unseen in other countries, and could be due to Singaporeans not taking up jobs in some industries, such as those that are labour-intensive.

The number of non-residents grew by 2.5 per cent to 1.67 million, mainly foreigners working here and their families, as well as international students. There was stronger growth in the number of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) and dependents of Singaporeans who are on Long-Term Visit Passes.

“The increase in FDW population growth reflects Singaporeans’ rising desire to augment their own care for their children and elderly,” said the NPTD.

There were 33,725 Singaporean babies born last year, the highest number in more than 10 years.

Nevertheless, the proportion of citizens aged 65 and above continued to grow, from 13.1 per cent in June last year to 13.7 per cent this June. The figure was 10.1 per cent in 2010.

“With increasing life expectancy and low fertility rates, our citizen population is ageing quickly,” said the NPTD. “There has been a significant increase in the number of citizens aged 65 years and above in the past decade, with more of our ‘post-war baby boomers’ entering their silver years.”

Sociologists cautioned against over-reliance on FDWs for the care of their elderly loved ones, given that these workers are “not particularly well-trained or equipped to handle (their) specific needs”, said Mr Christopher Gee, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies.

“This may be compounded if the eldercare responsibilities are combined with general household chores as well”, he added.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser added that apart from FDWs, Singaporeans could tap on other resources to look after the elderly, such as by mobilising their relatives or neighbours, or turning to daycare centres and the use of monitoring technology.

But Mrs Samantha Chung, 36, who has two domestic helpers at home, said she needs them to help look after her two young children.

“We are also not able to tap on our parents for help because my parents are helping to look after my nephew, while my husband’s mother is getting on in age,” said Mrs Chung, who works in the media industry.

“The only way in which I can see us having only one helper in the near term (perhaps for another two years) is if either my husband or I become a stay-at-home-parent or if we change to jobs with more family-friendly working hours,” she added.

The old issue of Singaporeans shunning certain jobs could explain the increase in foreign employment growth, said economists.

Noting that Singapore is an ageing society, CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun also pointed out that there is a demand for workers in the healthcare sector. “It is still a sector which continues to face shortage (of manpower) so therefore (these jobs have) to be (taken by) foreign professionals,” he said.

SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira pointed out that research from other cities shows that immigrants — foreign and domestic — also take up a substantial amount of employment relative to “locals”, even when the economy is not doing well.

“For example, when considering a global city such as London, migration can be from both external to the UK as well as ... from other British cities,” he said. “Singapore has no hinterland and so all economic migrants are foreign.”

Dr Theseira added that some jobs are “relatively undesirable” to Singaporeans or require specialised skills that few Singaporean jobseekers have.

“In such a case, refusing to hire the best qualified foreign applicant may make Singaporeans worse off, overall,” he said.

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