Best of our wild blogs: 4 Jan 16

51 photographs taken in Singapore that will take you away from Singapore
The Long and Winding Road

Life History of the White Tipped Skipper
Butterflies of Singapore

macaque family chasing python @ SBWR-Dec2015

red wattled lapwings & chick @ singapore - 03Jan2016

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Going far beyond the bare bones of fish farming

Temasek Poly's one-day course on fish nutrition equips employee with ability to make better decisions at work
Aw Cheng Wei Straits Times 4 Jan 16;

Before Bangladeshi national Shariful Islam took up a day course on fish nutrition at Temasek Polytechnic (TP) two years ago, he could not make better decisions at work.

"Whenever a fish dies or falls sick, my job was to tell the supervisor and he will tell me what to do," said the 31-year-old exporter with local fish farm Apollo Aquaculture.

He started out with no experience in fish farming when he came to Singapore eight years ago, after his family could no longer afford his university education.

But he now knows how to do his job better after completing the course with four colleagues.

"I know how to cut open the fish when they die to see what they died from, bacteria or parasite," he said.

He also began prescribing better feed - a combination of pellets and live fish - instead of just the latter, to the fish. "They grow better," he said. "I also learnt how much I should feed the fish to get the most meat out of them."

He showed so much improvement at his job that his boss, Mr Eric Ng, decided to send four other employees to do a Diploma in Applied Science (Aquaculture) at TP. They graduated last year.

The 42-year-old chief executive said: "We are expanding, and are starting to rear the fish when they are still in their fry or larva stages... It's very delicate work."

The one-day course at TP, which teaches students about the dietary requirement of fishes, costs $214.

SkillsFuture Credit can be used for this course; five baskets of modules make up a diploma programme, covering subjects such as fish anatomy, aquatic ecosystems and fish diseases.

To get a certificate at the end of each modular course, students have to attend three classes a week for six months. For each course, a student pays between $189.54 and $751.14, depending on the level of government subsidies he qualifies for. These are given to citizens and older workers, among others.

The one-day course is for anyone, regardless of industry experience, said Dr Diana Chan, course manager at TP's School of Applied Sciences. She said: "Aquariums are a growing pastime among Singaporeans... They want to know more about proper nutrition, feeding practices and types of feed."

The labour crunch is tight enough for Mr Ng to consider hiring anyone who has completed the one-day course. He said: "It's a very niche field, and we need people who have the knowledge and skills."

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Haze disrupted trips, but not all insurers pay out

Audrey Tan, My Paper AsiaOne 4 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE - The haze that blanketed Singapore and the region last year was the worst on record.

Plumes of smoke from the forest fires in Indonesia spread as far as the Philippines, causing health problems, school closures and flight cancellations.

Some travellers who faced trip disruptions due to the haze have found that they cannot make claims from their travel insurance policies.

This is because some insurers, such as the Ace Group and MSIG Insurance (Singapore), do not consider the haze a natural phenomenon.

Yeo Aik Siang, 33, was stranded in Langkawi for two days in October last year after a five-day holiday with a friend.

What was meant to be an 85-minute flight back to Singapore eventually turned into a 41-hour trip involving two cancelled flights, a three-hour ferry ride and a 10-hour bus journey.

But Mr Yeo, who works in the insurance industry, was told by MSIG Insurance (Singapore) that he could not be compensated as the cause of his delays was man-made rather than an adverse weather condition.

However, his travel companion Mark Ho, 33, who works in the oil and gas industry, received a $300 payout from insurer Aviva.

A spokesman for MSIG told The Straits Times that "adverse weather conditions" refer to natural ones.

She said: "MSIG takes the view that the recent haze phenomenon, which was created in Indonesia, is principally a man-made event and should not be construed as a common weather phenomenon."

This is the same for the Ace Group, which did not reimburse travellers for flight cancellations or delays due to the haze.

But its vice-president and head of travel in Asia Pacific, Jon Ford, said its travel insurance policies would provide medical coverage to a person who develops a haze-related health issue while travelling.

Other insurers such as NTUC Income have tweaked their policies to allow travellers to make claims for flight cancellation due to the haze. NTUC Income did so in 2014.

Said the insurer's senior manager of personal lines Annie Chua: "The haze situation deteriorated in recent years.

"This affected flight schedules as flights were grounded due to poor visibility. We recognise that the haze may return again, which is why NTUC Income expanded its trip cancellation, trip postponement and travel delay coverage to include haze-related claims."

Derek Teo, executive director of the General Insurance Association, said that the association does not comment on an insurer's product features, exclusions and special conditions.

This is partly because key product features or extended coverage are factored in the price and could vary from one insurer to another.

Instead, he advised consumers to seek guidance from insurers' websites or from insurance intermediaries on the key product features and major exclusions for travel insurance.

He said: "We do not go into specific uninsured perils like the haze. Cover would usually apply to damage or loss arising from unforeseen natural disasters, for example, a bush fire, flood, earthquake and tsunami."

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Planting ideas: What will a cleaner, greener, smarter Singapore look like?

Two large terrariums which represent what Singapore can be in the future will be part of an exhibition to be held at Gardens by the Bay, as part of the SGfuture engagement series.

Channel NewsAsia 4 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: An exhibition in the Marketplace at Gardens by the Bay will be held in conjunction with a series of engagements titled "A Cleaner, Greener and Smarter Home", the National Parks Board announced on Monday (Jan 4).

Set to take place from Jan 4 to 31, the exhibition will feature a pop-up park and interactive elements to show off NParks' efforts to create a more livable Singapore, and display what a cleaner, greener and smarter home for Singaporeans can look like.

The series of engagements is held as part of SGfuture conversations, and this track will be led by the Ministry of National Development, together with the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Transport and their family of agencies, said NParks.

As part of the engagements, a closed-door symposium will be held on Jan 7, followed by a series of dialogues with members of the public.

"Through these dialogues, we hope to gather ideas on how Singaporeans can play a bigger role in creating a more liveable and sustainable future and inspire them to drive projects and take tangible actions to realise their hopes, dreams and aspirations," said NParks.


One highlight of the exhibition is two large terrariums - each measuring 2m long, 1.2m wide and 0.6m high - which aim to "embody what our City in a Garden is and can be in the future", said NParks.

"With a number of different elements intricately put together, the terrariums are meant to illustrate a closely integrated environment that is sustainable, diverse and innovative," added NParks. "It also serves as a reminder that the evolution of Singapore towards SG100 requires balanced care for our communities, environment and economy.

The first terrarium will showcase the evolution of Singapore's living environment, and the second will showcase the evolution of Singapore's workplace from past to future, while both terrariums will "highlight the importance of play and recreation amid rapid urbanisation, using cut-outs to illustrate elements of our buildings, parks and park connectors", it said.


The first terrarium will feature more than 30 aquatic and terrestrial plant species, including rare species like the Dragon-Tail Plant and the Keladi Rimau, and will display Singapore's cityscape past, present and future.

This will include old kampongs and swamps, present-day residential buildings such as The Pinnacle@Duxton, and edge-lit acrylic cut-outs of futuristic buildings. More than 30 species of terrestrial and aquatic plants were used in the creation of the terrarium.

For the terrarium, an aquarium chiller was installed to regulate the temperature, as the rare and native plants require high humidity and special conditions for growth.

"Innovative selection of media, suitable light conditions and temperature that required the installation of an aquarium chiller were created in the terrariums to allow these plants to be in an environment similar to their origin," NParks said.


The second terrarium will feature more than 15 species of uncommon orchids to "create a tiered landscape that will showcase Singapore’s urban and work environment of the past, present and future, symbolising our journey from a Garden City to a City in a Garden", said NParks.

The species of orchids include the Paphiopedilum villosum - a cool-growing species from Myanmar, and the Stenorrhynchos speciosum - a cool-growing terrestrial orchid from South America that grows at elevations of 1,200m to 3,000m.

Old buildings such as shop houses, present iconic landmarks such as Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Flyer, as well as edge-lit acrylic cutouts of futuristic buildings, will also be shown.

- CNA/av

Living displays trace city's growth
Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Jan 16;

Six-year-old Kyle Chong plays with a balloon as he runs past one of the two large terrariums on display in the Marketplace, part of the ongoing Future of Us exhibition at Gardens by the Bay.

Two terrariums showcasing how Singapore has evolved into a "city in a garden" will be on display at Gardens by the Bay today.

They are part of the ongoing Future of Us exhibition, which envisions what daily life in Singapore will be like in the years to come.

Contributed by the National Parks Board (NParks), the displays measure 2m long, 1.2m wide and 0.6m high, and use more than 45 species of terrestrial and aquatic plants to create tiered landscapes that show the nation's past, present and future.

One aims to capture the evolution of Singapore's cityscape and living environment. It features old kampungs and swamps, present-day residential buildings, such as The Pinnacle@Duxton, and acrylic cut-outs of futuristic buildings. Some 30 species of terrestrial and aquatic plants were used in its creation, many of which are rare and native to forests here.

The other focuses on Singapore's urban and work environment, and features old buildings such as shophouses as well as iconic landmarks such as Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Flyer. More than 15 species of rare orchids were used in its creation.

The terrariums are part of a new exhibition that will accompany this month's SGfuture dialogue series, titled " A Cleaner, Greener and Smarter Home". The government-led series, which kicks off on Thursday, aims to gather ideas on how Singaporeans can play a bigger role in creating a more liveable and sustainable future.

The free exhibition will be on display from today until Jan 31 at the Marketplace at Gardens by the Bay.

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Indonesia: Hackers Strike District Court Website After Not Guilty Verdict in Forest Fire Case

Nivell Rayda Jakarta Globe 3 Jan 16;

Jakarta. The website for a South Sumatra district court has reportedly been hacked, days after issuing a not guilty verdict against one of the plantation companies accused of slash-and-burn practices that destroyed two million hectares of forests and caused debilitating haze.

The Palembang District Court has been criticized for ruling in favor of Bumi Mekar Hijau last week, dismissing accusations made by the Ministry of Forestry and Environment that it purposely burned forests in its own concession area to make way for oil palms during the 2014 drought season.

The same company was also accused of the same practices during last year's forest fires, which resulted in choking haze that for months affected hundreds of thousands of people in Kalimantan, Sumatra and neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

The case for this year's slash-and-burn practices against the company has not been brought to trial.

The court's website was inaccessible on Sunday with a note saying that it is “under maintenance” on its homepage.

Hours before the website went down, hackers replaced the site's content with criticisms of the ruling.

The hackers, claiming to be victims of the haze, wrote they are “gravely disappointed at the judges' decision to reject the government's civil lawsuit against a company burning down the forest.”

“Perhaps it is I who doesn't understand the law, but I truly understand what it feels to breath amid a choking haze. My breath was taken away once more when I heard the decisions made by the judges,” the hackers wrote.

The government had demanded the company pay a fine of Rp 2.6 trillion ($187.9 million) as well as conduct an environmental restoration on the damages done during the 2014 forest fires, worth another Rp 5.2 trillion.

The court, presided over by judge Parlas Nababan, however said the government failed to prove the company was directly responsible for the fire.

The court also dismissed claims of environmental damage done in the company's concession area, pointing to a testimony of an expert brought in by BMH that the area “can still be replanted by trees.”

The government is appealing the decision, the ministry's director general for enforcement Rasio Ridho Sani told Tempo on Sunday.

“We will appeal to protect the rights of people affected by the haze disaster and fulfill their demand for justice,” he said.

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Severe cyclone takes aim at Tonga

Severe tropical cyclone Ula was bearing down on the tiny Pacific kingdom of Tonga Saturday with the government warning it had the potential to damage property, crops and infrastructure.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Jan 16;

NUKU'ALOFA: Tonga declared a pre-emptive state of emergency on Saturday (Jan 2) as severe tropical cyclone Ula hit the tiny Pacific kingdom.

Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva took the precautionary action because "an emergency is happening or is about to happen" with winds up to 150 kilometres per hour (93 miles per hour) and rising sea levels.

"It is necessary for the emergency powers to be exercised in order to prevent or minimise the loss of human life, illness or injury, property loss or damage and damage to the environment," he said.

Late Saturday morning, the category three storm was passing near the northern island of Vava'u where there were reports of damage to crops and houses.

Ula has the potential "to cause major property damage, significant infrastructure and crop damage, local power failure and there is a high risk of injuries from a category three cyclone," the official Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre said in an advisory.

It warned of "very destructive winds" with "very high to phenomenal seas" causing flooding in low-lying areas.

The cyclone is expected to weaken Sunday as it heads towards Fiji.

A year ago Tonga was hit by Cyclone Ian which left one person dead, 4,000 homeless and destroyed crops on outlying islands.

- AFP/ec

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Rice and palm oil risk to mangroves

Mark Kinver BBC News 4 Jan 16;

The threat posed by the development of rice and palm oil plantations to mangroves in South-East Asia has been underestimated, a study has suggested.

Rice and oil plantations accounted for 38% of mangrove deforestation between 2000 and 2012, the research showed.

As well as being important carbon sinks and rich in biodiversity, mangrove forests provide fuel and food for coastal communities.
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Aquaculture has largely been held responsible for causing mangrove deforestation, particularly in countries like Thailand and the Philippines," explained co-author Daniel Richards from the National University of Singapore.

He told BBC News that a study of eight countries around the world between the 1970s and the early 2000s found that 54% of deforested mangroves were replaced with aquaculture ponds used for fish or shrimp/prawn production.

"Our study found that aquaculture was still important but we were surprised that in South-East Asia between 2000 and 2012, just 30% of deforested mangroves were replaced with aquaculture.

"The impact of other drivers, like rice and oil palm agriculture, was greater than we expected."

Mangroves - natural defences
•Mangroves are salt-tolerant evergreens that grow along coastlines, rivers and deltas
•Found in more than 120 tropical and subtropical nations
•The plants' root systems have been shown to dissipate wave energy

Dr Richards observed: "Almost 25,000 hectares of Myanmar's mangroves were converted to rice paddy between 2000 and 2012."

He added that while there had been a few previous studies that had highlighted the role of oil palm production as a cause for mangrove loss, they had no idea of the scale of the deforestation.

"Sixteen percent of all deforested mangroves in Southeast Asia were replaced with oil palm plantations during our study period," he said.

"We usually think of oil palm as an issue which affects tropical forests on land but our study shows that demand for oil palm is also driving deforestation in coastal mangrove forests."

'Very threatened'

Dr Richards and his colleague, Daniel Friess, used Google Earth to monitor how land was used once mangrove forests had been felled.

"We viewed [more than] 3,000 deforested mangrove patches, and recorded the land-use that they were replaced with," Dr Richards said.

"This study also builds on some great existing data sets that were provided by scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Geological Survey."

He warned that mangrove forests in the region were "very threatened":

"Our study focused on quite a recent period of time but mangroves in South-East Asia have experienced widespread deforestation for decades.

"Previous research suggests that around 90% of Singapore's original mangrove forests have been lost."

The region is home to about one third of the world's mangroves, including some of the most biodiverse.

The researchers said mangroves were important to people because they provide fish and crabs, wood and charcoal, and can help protect coastlines from erosion.

Mangrove forests also stored very high densities of carbon so had a role in regulating carbon in the atmosphere, they added.

In other regions, such as Sri Lanka, the value of intact mangrove forests has been recognised by authorities and measures have been put in place to protect them.

Growing awareness

Dr Richards said that the importance of mangrove forests is becoming better understood, but it was a slow process.

"It is encouraging that our study found low rates of mangrove deforestation in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Brunei, and this is partly due to stronger protection of mangroves in these countries.

"There are initiatives to restore mangroves in some countries: the Mangrove Action Project in Thailand, and Blue Forests in Indonesia, are working with governments and local communities to protect and restore mangrove forests."

But he warned that more needed to be done: "Indonesia has more mangrove forests than any country in the world, and the mangroves in the more remote parts of the country, such as Indonesian Papua, are almost intact.

"However, these mangroves may be at risk of deforestation [as a result of] recent plans to grant concessions and develop the agriculture industry in this region.

"If we want to protect Indonesia's remaining mangroves then we need to act quickly."

Land conversion threatens Southeast Asia's mangrove forests: NUS study
Continued expansion for rice farming in Myanmar and conversion of magroves into oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia could accelerate deforestation, according to researchers.
Channel NewsAsia 5 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: The conversion of mangrove forests for other uses poses a big threat to their existence here in Southeast Asia, according to a study by National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers.

In a press release on Tuesday (Jan 5), NUS said that while the rate of deforestation was lower than previously thought, 2 per cent, or more than 100,000 hectares, of mangroves in the region were deforested from 2000 to 2012.

The study was authored by Assistant Professor Daniel Friess, from the Department of Geography at NUS, and Dr Daniel Richards, who was formerly from the same department. Dr Richards is now with the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at The University of Sheffield.

According to the study, Southeast Asia has the greatest diversity of mangrove species in the world, which store substantially higher densities of carbon as compared to most other ecosystems globally. Thus, the mangrove forests play an "important role" in mitigating carbon dioxide emissions and climate change, the press release said.


Despite the lower than expected rate of deforestation, the researchers found that continued agricultural expansion for rice in Myanmar and conversion of mangroves into oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia were "under-recognised threats" and may threaten the existence of the mangrove ecosystems in the region.

In Myanmar, rice expansion has accounted for more than a fifth of the total mangrove change in Southeast Asia over the study period, and these trends are likely to continue with the country's ongoing economic transformation, the press release said.

As for the development of oil palm plantations, this is already a "major driver" of terrestrial forest and peat swamp deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia, and contributes to regional issues such as haze, the researchers said. With palm oil production in Indonesia expected to increase steadily over the next few years, especially into frontier areas such as Papua, this is likely to pose "severe threats" to the mangrove forests there, they added.

“Our study provides detailed information for evidence-based conservation of mangrove forests. Future research and policy interventions, at the national and subnational level, must consider the diversity of drivers of mangrove deforestation,” said Dr Richards.

The findings were published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, in December last year.

- CNA/kk

Plantations main cause of mangrove loss
The Star 6 Jan 16;

PETALING JAYA: Plantations are the top cause of mangrove defores­tation in Malaysia, a National Uni­versity of Singapore study found.

Covering Asean, the study found that Malaysia lost 18,836ha of mangrove forests from 2000 to 2012.

At least 38.2% of this was due to mangroves being converted to oil palm plantations.

Other notable causes of mangrove loss, the report found, were due to logging – legal or illegal – which was reflected in the study as mangrove forest regrowth (17.6%).

“Malaysia has quite a lot of mangrove regrowth,” Dr Daniel Richards, one of the paper’s two authors, told The Star in an email.

“A big chunk of mangrove re­­growth occurred in the Matang Man­­grove Forest Reserve in Perak.”

Oil palms and rice join aquaculture in destroying mangroves
Today Online 8 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE — Oil palms and rice plantations have been identified as key drivers of mangrove deforestation in South-east Asia in recent times, alongside the traditional culprit, aquaculture.

About 100,000 hectares of mangroves in South-east Asia were lost between 2000 and 2012, and a recent study by researchers linked to the National University of Singapore (NUS) found that about 22 per cent of that area was converted to rice agriculture, while 16 per cent was converted to oil palm plantations.

Rice agriculture expansion in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine state, as well as expansion of oil palm plantations in Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo, are under-recognised threats to mangrove ecosystems, which offer coastal protection, are highly biodiverse and store disproportionately large amounts of carbon, said the researchers.

While the study confirmed aquaculture — the farming of fish and other aquatic creatures — as the main driver of mangrove destruction in the region, responsible for about 30 per cent of mangrove forests lost, its role was smaller than in previous decades.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as much as double the percentage of mangrove forest destroyed was estimated to be for fish or shrimp ponds, wrote researchers Daniel Richards and Daniel Friess in their paper published last month in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Mangrove conversion to aquaculture now occurs mainly in Kalimantan and Sulawesi in Indonesia.

Assistant Professor Friess is from NUS’ geography department; his former colleague Dr Richards is now with the University of Sheffield.

The pair used global forest-change datasets and satellite imagery in their analysis, supported by Singapore’s Ministry of Education.

“This is the first study to systematically quantify the conversion of mangroves to different land use types in South-east Asia and identify the key drivers of mangrove deforestation over the past decade,” said Asst Prof Friess.

Available data potentially shows mangrove destruction slowing down, but the problem remains substantial, he said.

South-east Asia lost its mangrove forests at a rate of 0.18 per cent a year between 2000 and 2012, with the highest rates of loss found in Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Singapore, whose mangrove forests make up about 0.5 per cent of its total land area from an estimated 13 per cent in the 1820s, did not suffer any mangrove loss from 2000 to 2012.

In future, mangroves will probably continue to be under siege in Myanmar and Indonesia — given few environmental safeguards for mangrove forests and the importance of rice production for food security in the Indochinese country, and future oil-palm expansion slated for Papua, said the researchers.

Besides mangrove loss, oil palm expansion has also been blamed for the drainage of carbon-rich peatlands, which has contributed to haze-causing forest fires.

The study could aid decision makers in formulating targeted, evidence-based policies to conserve mangrove forests, said the researchers.

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