Best of our wild blogs: 10 Jan 16

Night Walk At Upper Seletar Reservoir (08 Jan 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Butterfly of the Month - January 2016
Butterflies of Singapore

Records Committee Report 2015-Rarities
Singapore Bird Group

Records Committee Report 2015-New Additions
Singapore Bird Group

Chingay 2016 will NOT release sky lanterns
wild shores of singapore

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Programme to mentor young environmentalists set to expand

Organised by a few local environmentalists, the Sustainability Mentorship Programme will now run for a longer period, cover a wider scope of green issues as well as take in more participants.

Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia 9 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: A programme to mentor young people passionate about the environment is being expanded, after completing its first run last year.

Organised by a few local environmentalists, the Sustainability Mentorship Programme (SMP) will now run for a longer period, cover a wider scope of green issues as well as take in more participants.

National University of Singapore undergraduate Sankar Ananthanarayanan and fellow enthusiasts formed the Herpetological Society of Singapore (HSS) in April last year. The group has an interest in reptiles and amphibians.

They lead nature walks on a monthly basis to promote conservation. The 21-year-old also took part in the first SMP, which he said helped shaped the way the society is run.

Mr Sankar Ananthanarayanan (centre) leading a nature walk at MacRitchie Reservoir. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

Mr Sankar said: "We learnt a lot about collaboration with other green groups in Singapore. For example, if we are doing a guided walk in a particular area, we don't want to clash with other groups that are already doing guided walks there.

“Instead, why not focus on other parts of Singapore which are not given as much attention? I did learn a lot from some of the mentors about how to interact with the public and how to spread the message, not only offline but also online. So, part of what we do at HSS is regular blogging. There are certain times when the outreach is best. Those are such insights which I did gain from the SMP.”

Mr Sankar Ananthanarayanan (left) pointing out interesting flora and fauna in sight. (Photo: Olivia Siong)


This year's programme will target those aged between 19 and 29. The first run was open to those aged 19 to 35.

Once a month, mentors will share their views on a green topic. In the first run, these ranged from nature conservation and environmental law to green businesses. Field trips are also part of the programme.

More topics will be added for the second run, including hot issues like the zero waste movement and circular economy as well as food security.

Participants from the first run of the Sustainability Mentorship Programme last year. (Photo: Eugene Tay)

Environmental consultant Eugene Tay will continue as a mentor, along with three others for the programme's second run. Nature enthusiast Ria Tan, who runs website WildSingapore, will also continue as a mentor.

Urban planner and founder of The Leafmonkey Workshop, November Tan and sustainability manager, Marcus Tay have come onboard as new mentors for the second run of the programme. There were three mentors last year.

Said Mr Tay: “We can have different perspectives from different sectors. We have the private sector people come in so they can share about sustainability and businesses.

“People who are urban planners can also talk about urban planning in Singapore. We need to give the young people a sense of the different environmental issues and how they're interrelated. We also hope to nurture them and give them support, so they can stay on the sustainability cause for the long term."

More people will also get to take part in the programme. There are 20 places available this year, up from 13 last year.

With the greater scope, participants will also be expected to meet with their mentors twice a month, instead of once.

This year’s programme will also be extended from the previous seven months to 10. Participants are expected to complete a group project on top of an individual project.

Registrations are set to close on Jan 24 and the programme is expected to begin in February. Those who are interested can learn more at this website.

- CNA/xk

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Right behaviours, attitudes and values will lead to cleaner environment: Masagos

Mr Masagos was speaking at a dialogue session, where participants offered their ideas on how Singaporeans can strive towards keeping the environment clean, green and sustainable.
Nadia Jansen Hassan Channel NewsAsia 9 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: The Republic should aim to build a culture where Singaporeans not only desire a clean environment but also own the behaviours, attitudes and values that would allow them to achieve it, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Saturday (Jan 9).

He added: "If we can get that done, we can certainly get a few people who have the right behavior to encourage others to also have the right behavior."

Mr Masagos was speaking at a dialogue session, where close to 40 participants offered their ideas on how Singaporeans can strive towards keeping the environment clean, green and sustainable.

A common theme that emerged was how to encourage citizens to take more responsibility in keeping the country litter-free. One suggestion was for more cleaning drives to be held within the various communities.

The session took place at The Future of Us exhibition at Gardens by the Bay, and was part of the SGfuture Engagement Series. The series is meant to give Singaporeans a platform to share their views, aspirations and ideas for the country's future, and will go on until March.

At the event, Mr Masagos also said a "whole of government" approach is needed for Singapore to bring down carbon emissions. He added that the Government will work with the different ministries and research community to achieve the goal.

In December, Singapore had pledged its commitment to reduce emissions at the global climate talks in Paris.

Said Mr Masagos: "It's a very complicated piece of work because we also do not want to affect peoples' livelihood … so much so that they are inconvenienced by such changes.

"At the end of the day, I hope this is something everybody wants to come forward, modify their behavior and consumption, to contribute towards a better global climate."

The next two sessions, on food waste recycling and the future of hawker centres, will be held on Jan 10.

- CNA/xk

Have 'no-cleaners week' so people can get hands dirty?
Danson Cheong, Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Jan 16;

Mr Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, helping to clean up his ward last Friday. He called the work "physically exhausting" and said small pieces of litter add up to a big pile of rubbish.

Participants come up with suggestions at public forum on keeping Singapore clean.

Stop issuing plastic bags at supermarkets. Get residents to clean up the corridors outside their homes. And have a "no-cleaners week" each month so ordinary Singaporeans can get their hands dirty.

These were some of the suggestions made yesterday at a public forum organised by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources on keeping Singapore clean. Mr Masagos Zulkifli, who heads the ministry, facilitated the discussions.

He said residents must be personally involved in keeping the country clean, and this spirit of civic consciousness had to become a social norm if Singapore were to progress from being a cleaned city to one that is simply clean.

"This involvement must come from the heart, from belief; it must come from culture," said Mr Masagos, adding that this can simply involve residents cleaning up their HDB corridors instead of waiting for cleaners.

Yesterday's forum was part of the larger SGfuture discussions - a series of public dialogues on the country's future that was launched last November and will run until the middle of this year.

Two discussions were held at the Future Of Us exhibition at Gardens by the Bay yesterday, attended by about 40 participants each, and centred on the theme "A Cleaner, Greener and Smarter Home".

Civil servant Chris Koh, 43, pointed out that people learnt in schools to return food trays but forget this good habit when they start working. "In order to change mindsets, perhaps we need more education for adults," said Ms Koh.

Others, such as facilities and maintenance manager Low Kok Peng, said Singaporeans kept homes that were spick and span - but started littering the moment they stepped outside.

"We should get neighbours to tell each other not to litter and clean up," said the 58 year-old, who wanted Singaporeans to get their hands dirty and not wait for cleaners.

Meanwhile, Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, spent last Friday working with a broom and dustpan alongside cleaners in his ward. Mr Ng, who called the work "physically exhausting" in a Facebook post on the same day, said small pieces of litter add up to a big pile of rubbish.

"If everyone plays their part, puts the cigarette butt in the bin, throws the rubbish in the bin... it will make it better for all," he said.

Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D'Silva said problems such as clogged drains and pest infestations had their roots in the simple act of littering.

"It is the cause of a lot of the downstream problems that we have," he said during the discussions.

Mr Masagos said there was space for the community to play an active role on this issue - instead of waiting for the authorities to clamp down on litterbugs.

"We certainly need to work more with schools, to think how we can make what we do in schools perpetuate when we go out into the community," said Mr Masagos.

"Maybe 50 years from now, there will be a culture for Singaporeans to not just want a clean environment, but have attitudes and behaviours that keep the environment clean."

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NEA expects spike in dengue cases this year

Salma Khalik, Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Jan 16;

The battle against dengue could turn grim this year.

Not only is the number of infections expected to be large, but the cases are also expected to spike earlier than in previous years, the National Environment Agency (NEA) warned.

This is due to the confluence of three factors: Large numbers of infections in what is usually the low season, increases in the mosquito population and a change in the dominant viral strain.

The agency said on its website: "We are starting off the year with an unusually high base of dengue cases; 459 cases were reported in the final week of 2015."

This was the highest for the year. Between Sunday and 3.30pm on Thursday (latest availabe figures), there were 345 cases, signalling another week of high infections. Since 2013, Den-1 had been the dominant virus spread by the Aedes mosquito, accounting for more than half the infections. But now, more than two-thirds are due to the Den-2 strain, which marks a significant shift.

NEA said that, from historical trends, such changes in dengue strain "signal (a) possible spike in dengue cases".

On top of that, it added: "We have also seen a further increase in the Aedes mosquito population due to the slightly warmer than usual year-end weather."

It concluded: "The number of dengue cases in 2016 is expected to be high, with cases spiking earlier than in previous years."

Yesterday, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, visited Singa- pore's biggest dengue cluster, where 195 people have been infected. It is in his constituency of Tampines GRC.

He said NEA found 86 breeding sites in the cluster. Of these, 60 were in homes, and only one at a construction site.

Of the 195 cases in the cluster, 81 are foreigners working at the Downtown Line 3 construction site, and the rest are residents. Some of the problem areas include Tampines Avenue 4 with 82 cases, and Tampines Street 91 with 24.

In his Facebook post, Mr Masagos said: "We found adult mosquitoes and larvae in some of the Gravitraps, indicating a high level of mosquito activity, despite three rounds of home inspections and destruction of breeding habitats.

"We need to prevent mosquito breeding. But NEA officers and town councils cannot achieve this alone."

More than 11,200 people were diagnosed with dengue last year, with four dying as a result.

NEA officers carried out more than 1.4 million inspections last year and found 15,000 breeding spots.

The agency issued more than 900 notices to construction sites to attend court, with over 100 prosecutions for repeat offenders.

It also issued more than 100 stop-work orders to construction sites.

It advised people living in active dengue clusters - there are 115 now - to use repellents to reduce their risk of getting the virus.

- See more at:

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Malaysia: 87 magpies rescued and bird smuggling ring crippled

The Star 10 Jan 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: A syndicate specialising in smuggling exotic and protected species of birds was crippled with the arrests of three gang members.

A total of 87 live “burung murai batu” (magpies) hidden in eight makeshift plastic cages were rescued during a pre-dawn raid at a house in Kampung Tanjung Gahai, Bukit Betong near Kuala Lipis.

Personnel from the Wildlife Crime Unit of the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) also found several jungle fowl, parakeets and parrots kept in cages in the house.

Perhilitan enforcement division director Hasnan Yusop said acting on a tip-off and week-long surveillance, his officers raided the premises at about 6.45am on Friday.

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Indonesia: Endemic species face extinction due to hunting, breeding problems

Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post 9 Jan 16;

The management of Lore Lindu National Park (TNLL) in Central Sulawesi say its regular observations over the past few years have found that the populations of at least four animal species endemic to the region are in decline as a result of reproduction difficulties and poaching.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Thursday, TNLL head Sudayatna said numbers of mountain anoa, low-plain anoa, babirusa and tarsius within the park area had substantially dropped.

“Several years ago, our field officers could easily spot anoa or babirusa gathered in herds of 15 to 20. Over the past year, however, they could only find a single herd of no more than 11 anoa and babirusa,” Sudayatna said.

Another species that his men noticed have been declining in number is the tarsius.

“Unlike the maleo bird, the populations of anoa, babirusa and tarsius continue to decline as we currently have no breeding program for them,” Sudyatna said.

According to him, babirusa and anoa could not be bred like the maleo, which has been bred successfully in captivity.

The center is only able to build watering holes for the anoa and babirusa to help them survive the threat of extinction.

Sudayatna described the babirusa and anoa as very wild animal species surviving in vast areas, so when his center had sufficient funds, it would build watering holes and provide food to both animal species so they would feel at home there. “It’s the only thing we can do to save them and help them multiply,” he said.

The 189,000-square-kilometer TNLL is located around 60 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Palu.

It is home to endemic Sulawesi flora and fauna as well as beautiful natural panorama, as it sits along the Wallace Line and part of the Asian and Australian continental shelves. The TNLL is the biggest mammal habitat in Sulawesi.

The anoa, babirusa, deer, monkey ghost, kakaktonkea monkey, kuskus marsupial, tarsius and Sulawesi musang civet, the biggest meat-eating mammal, live in the park.

TNLL is also home to at least five squirrel species and 31 of 38 rat species, including endemic species.

It also includes at least 55 bat species and more than 230 bird species, including the maleo, two Senggang, julang and kengkareng bird species endemic to Sulawesi.

Thousands of exotic and beautiful insect species can also be found around TNLL. The brightly colored butterflies flying around the park or along footpaths and streams regularly attract visitors.

Biology researcher Mohammad Yasin, who has been studying the region’s endemic species, said that his research over the past three years had confirmed that babirusa and anoa also inhabited the neighboring Togean National Park in Tojo Una-Una regency.

Yasin estimated that there were currently 200 babirusa in Togean. The size of the babirusa population in Togean, he added, remained stable compared to that in TNLL as people in the Muslim-majority region were not allowed by their religious teachings to consume meat from babirusa, a type of pig.

“This is different compared to TNLL, whose most residents living near the park are Christians who are allowed to consume the meat,” he said.

Sudyatna emphasized the role of the local community in protecting the forest and its endemic species.

“They have to stop poaching the protected animals. This is important as the TNLL is not just a state or provincial asset, but also the lungs of the world,” he said.

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Indonesia: W. Sumatra faces peak of floods, landslides

The Jakarta Post 9 Jan 16;

PADANG: Floods and landslides have hit a number of areas in West Sumatra over the past few days, damaging houses and forcing affected people to flee.

Heavy rains on Thursday led to overflowing rivers in the province, while cliffs along roadsides experienced landslides. Among the worst-hit regions was Sawahlunto, where residents have been affected by the overflowing Batang Ombilin and Batang Maloputan rivers.

The West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BPBD) logistics and emergency division head, R. Pagar Negara, said landslides along riverbanks had damaged more than 20 houses as well as affecting roads in five locations.

The floods, meanwhile, have inundated 76 hectares of rice fields, claiming the lives of five cows and over 75 other livestock as well as damaging a bridge “Until Friday afternoon, affected people were still cleaning up their houses,” Pagar said on Friday.

In Sijunjung regency, flooding on Thursday inundated over 400 houses and destroyed 123 ha of rice fields, while landslides destroyed three houses.

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Spread of algal toxin through marine food web broke records in 2015

University of California, Santa Cruz Science Daily 8 Jan 16;

While Dungeness crab captured headlines, record levels of the neurotoxin domoic acid were found in a range of species, and the toxin showed up in new places.

Researchers monitoring the unprecedented bloom of toxic algae along the west coast of North America in 2015 found record levels of the algal toxin domoic acid in samples from a wide range of marine organisms. The toxin was also detected for the first time in the muscle tissue or filet of several commercial fish species.

Investigations led by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, help explain the extraordinary duration and intensity of the 2015 domoic acid event, the spread of the toxin through the marine food web, and its persistence in Dungeness crab months after the algal bloom disappeared from coastal waters. Ocean scientist Raphael Kudela, the Lynn Professor of Ocean Health at UC Santa Cruz, will present the latest research findings at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco on Friday, December 18.

Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by a type of microscopic algae called Pseudo-nitzschia that occurs naturally in coastal waters. Blooms of the toxic algae along the California coast typically occur in the spring and fall and last just a few weeks. This year, however, unusual oceanographic conditions (unrelated to El Niño) led to the largest and longest-lasting bloom ever recorded.

"The duration of the bloom and the intensity of the toxicity were unprecedented, and that led to record levels of the toxin in species such as anchovies, razor clams, and crabs," Kudela said. "We also saw the toxin in organisms and parts of organisms where we thought it was not supposed to be, like the filets of fish."

Monitoring programs

Monitoring programs are in place to ensure the safety of seafood for human consumption, leading to the closure of several west coast fisheries and the delayed opening of the Dungeness crab season. In humans, domoic acid poisoning is also known as amnesic shellfish poisoning because it may cause permanent loss of short-term memory, as well as neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms. In 1987, four people died of domoic acid poisoning in Canada after eating contaminated mussels, but such cases are rare.

The levels of toxin detected this year in the filets of salmon, rockfish, and ling cod were well below the regulatory limits, Kudela said. But once the toxin gets into the muscle tissue, it will stay in the fish and in the food web much longer than if it is just in the intestinal track.

"Before this year, it was a big question whether it gets into the filet at all," he said. "We think what happened is the bloom lasted so long and was so toxic that the prolonged exposure allowed the toxin to perfuse into the muscle tissue, and it also worked its way into the food web to an extent that we hadn't seen before."

Prolonged bloom

The prolonged bloom probably also allowed a lot of toxin to build up in sediments on the seafloor, which would explain why Dungeness crabs are still showing high levels of toxin. Previous studies by Kudela's team showed that sediments on the seafloor can hold a reservoir of toxin that lasts for months after the algal bloom goes away. "The crabs are feeding on the seafloor, and all the things they would typically eat can hold the toxin for months," he said. "It could be another month or longer before the toxin in crabs drops below the regulatory limit everywhere in California."

The good news, Kudela said, is that scientists now have a much better understanding of the factors that lead to Pseudo-nitzschia blooms. His lab has developed a forecasting model that has performed well at predicting where and when domoic acid will be a problem.

A combination of warm water and nutrients creates ideal conditions for a toxic bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia, Kudela said. That's a relatively uncommon combination along the west coast, where wind-driven upwelling of cold deep water is a major source of nutrients in coastal ecosystems. When there's no upwelling of cold water, the layer of warm water on the surface tends to be low in nutrients. Pseudo-nitzschia blooms typically occur during the transitional periods in the spring and fall, when upwelling is getting started or winding down and nutrients mix with warm water for a few weeks.

Warm blob

In 2015, however, the usual patterns were disrupted by a warm-water anomaly known as the "warm blob," which first appeared in the North Pacific west of Seattle in late 2013. In 2014, a second warm blob developed off of southern California, and in 2015 they spread into the coastal waters. "We had two pools of warm water hitting the coast in the Pacific Northwest and southern California and merging, so all at once there were warm waters over the whole west coast," Kudela said.

That warm water then interacted with coastal upwelling to create perfect conditions for Pseudo-nitzschia. Normally, the northerly winds that start in the spring blow the warm surface waters offshore, driving the upwelling of cold deep water and creating a regime of cold, nutrient-rich coastal waters that lasts until fall. In 2015, weak upwelling provided periodic injections of nutrients, but every time the upwelling got started the warm blob pushed back onto the coast.

The result was a record-breaking toxic algae bloom that started in April and lasted into early October. The size of the bloom was also unprecedented, extending from Santa Barbara to Alaska. Even in December, water samples were still occasionally showing up with domoic acid, Kudela said. "We think it's just moving offshore, and each time conditions are right it comes back in to the coast," he said. "Once a series of big winter storms comes through, that's when we'll see it go away until the following spring."

Now the big question is what the impact of El Niño will be in 2016, because El Niño also brings warm water conditions that can favor toxic algae blooms. Most of the warm water along the California coast in 2015 was from the warm blob, although El Niño probably began contributing to it later in the summer. Historically, El Niño periods have been associated with larger than normal blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia, Kudela said.

"The predictions are for this El Niño to be as strong as the one in 1997-98, when the warm water lasted through 1998. So we could be looking at a big bloom again next year," he said.

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