Best of our wild blogs: 12 Feb 16

East Coast Park is alive
wild shores of singapore

EIAs: Enigmas In Action?
Green Drinks Singapore

Recce Trip To Kranji Marshes (10 Feb 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

whimlews @ semakau south - 08Feb2016

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Dengue cases fall but still ‘much higher than usual’: NEA

The number of dengue cases reported in Singapore fell to 530 in the first week of February, 95 cases fewer than the previous week, according to latest figures published on the National Environment Agency website.
Channel NewsAsia 11 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: A total of 530 dengue cases were reported in the week ending Feb 6, 95 cases fewer than the previous week but still “much higher than usual”, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on its website.

A total of 3,104 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since Jan 3. Two people - a 47-year-old man living in Marsiling Rise and a 67-year-old man living in Toa Payoh - have died of the disease so far this year.

Tampines remains the biggest cluster with 276 cases since the start of the year, including eight reported in the past two weeks. That is fewer than the second-biggest cluster in Yishun, which saw 11 cases in the past fortnight.

Ms Lee Bee Wah, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC, said everybody has a part to play to combat the virus.

"Town Councils have to keep the common area clean and make sure that it is dry. And of course, residents can keep an eye out too. If there is water-ponding along the corridors after heavy rain, if they can, they should sweep it away. But if there is perpetual water-ponding, they can alert the Town Council," she said.

"For houses, of course, we would like to encourage residents to conduct thorough checks, be more vigilant, and perhaps get NEA to share photographs of where they have found mosquito breeding. I think that would help," Ms Lee added.

Responding to media queries, the Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council said it has been "seeking out and destroying mosquito breeding sites", but it added that everyone has a part to play in the fight against dengue.

The Town Council will continue to remind residents of preventive measures.

NEA warned that there has been an increase in the Aedes mosquito population, with the warmer-than-usual weather shortening the breeding and maturation cycles of the mosquitoes, as well as the incubation periods for the dengue virus.

Additionally, the proportion of dengue cases due to the DENV-2 serotype has increased and now accounts for more than two-thirds of all dengue cases serotyped in Singapore, the agency said. Previously, the DENV-1 serotype accounted for most of the dengue cases in Singapore since March 2013.

“This change in the main circulating dengue virus and the increase in mosquito population due to warmer weather may be contributing to the spike in dengue cases. Immediate measures need to be taken by all stakeholders to suppress the Aedes mosquito population,” NEA said.

With the majority of breeding sites found in homes, and the top breeding spots being domestic containers and flower pot plates and trays, NEA urged homeowners who purchased plants for Chinese New Year to ensure that the plants do not become breeding habitats for mosquitoes.

Those planning to go on vacation should also mosquito-proof their homes before travelling, it added.

- CNA/cy/dl

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Bright spot amid haze crisis for bird-watchers

Carolyn Khew, Straits Times AsiaOne 12 Feb 16;

In the past, only two black-tailed Godwits at most visit the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve each year. But last September, 32 of them turned up. It was the highest number in 20 years.

Last year, bird-watchers rejoiced at a spike in uncommon bird sightings in Singapore, but the reasons behind the rare visits could be sinister.

The haze in the surrounding regions could have driven birds to seek refuge in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, says the National Parks Board (NParks).

"With Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve being a protected area, it could be that these birds, which do not usually come here, had decided to stop over as it provided them with a better refuge," Mr Wong Tuan Wah, NParks director of conservation, explained.

Among the uncommon birds which were sighted more frequently last year was the black-tailed Godwit. A total of 32 were spotted in the wetland reserve in September last year, the highest number in 20 years. Previously, only two of the creatures, at most, made an appearance each year.

Seven Asian Dowitchers and three Eurasian Curlews were also sighted in September - the highest count in the past decade.

While Singapore was not spared the effects of the transboundary haze crisis last year, other locations in Indonesia and East Malaysia - the birds' favourite haunts - were harder hit. At the peak of the haze crisis in October, total emissions from the fires rose to nearly 1.4 billion tonnes.

Mr Yong Ding Li, an ecologist at the Australian National University and a member of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, said the haze may have resulted in these shorebirds dispersing more widely to look for food.

"These birds forage on coastal mudflats and it is possible that the pollution resulting from the haze reduced the numbers of invertebrates which they eat," he said.

During the avian migratory season, many shorebirds pass the coastal wetlands on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula and Eastern Sumatra, Mr Yong explained.

Singapore is part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway which stretches from Arctic Russia and Alaska to Australia and New Zealand.

While some birds fly by Singapore, a relatively small green spot for them to fatten up, thousands arrive at the reserve in August and September to take respite from harsh winters.

"In some years, events might cause some sites along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway to be in less than ideal condition, but this is where the Flyway, with many sites spread across more than 20 countries, shows its value - the birds are able to fly to another site if they are not comfortable at their usual one," Mr Wong said.

"Having choices is important for their continual survival and conservation."

Mr David Tan, a bird researcher from the National University of Singapore, cautioned however that it is difficult to draw a direct connection between the increase in sightings and the haze.

"It could be due to an increase in the number of observers or other environmental factors... We won't know unless we do an actual study," he said.

Weather or wind conditions could also have pushed some of the birds in the direction of Singapore, said Mr Lim Kim Chuah, chairman of the Nature Society's bird group.

"It's hard to make any inference from just one year of data. Regardless, as development encroaches on many of the staging and wintering grounds in other parts of Asia, Sungei Buloh will continue to play an increasingly important role for the thousands of migratory birds that pass through Singapore," the veteran bird-watcher said.

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Whale off Johor coast could have consumed trash prior to its death

RIZALMAN HAMMIM New Straits Times 11 Feb 16;

BATU PAHAT: The Johor Fisheries Department is looking at poisoning or environmental elements as possible causes which led to the death of a whale found in the waters off Sungai Sarang Buaya here on Tuesday, Department director Munir Mohd Nawi said it is also possible that the whale had become sick after it consumed trash such as plastic bottles, which led it to swim to the shore.

“It might have fallen sick because of poison or because of the effects of environmental elements.

We might have to wait for the cause of death because the histopathology tests on the tissue of the carcass will take a few weeks to complete,” said Munir.

He was speaking to the media after inspecting the whale carcass at the Fisheries Department jetty in Minyak Beku here.

The post mortem was conducted by officers from the Fisheries Research Institute and the Veterinary Services Department.

On Monday, a four-tonne whale was found stranded in shallow waters off Pontian.

The unusual discovery sparked a buzz on social media, with locals sharing images and videos of efforts to rescue the stranded mammal.

Local fishermen, aided by the Fire and Rescue Department, spent more than three hours to steer the whale towards open water.

However, the whale was found dead a day later at the river mouth of Sungai Sarang Buaya around 4.45pm.

Sei whale suspected to have died from breathing difficulties
The Star 12 Feb 16;

A post-mortem result of the dead whale, which was found beached at Sungai Sarang Buaya on Feb 9, revealed that its respiratory tract was filled with mud.

According to Johor Fisheries Department director Munir Mohd Nawi, the mammal is believed to have been suffering from breathing difficulties when it was first rescued in Pontian a day earlier.

"We are certain that mud residue (which entered its respiratory system) had caused the mammal to lose balance to swim, leading it towards the shore.

"Based on our observation, the sea level on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia is shallow and sandy. The whale could have swallowed sand while looking for food," he said.

Histopathology tests will be conducted on the dead carcass to detect whether the mammal was suffering from any internal diseases.

Plastic garbage found in whale carcass
The Star 14 Feb 16;

JOHOR BARU: Badly-damaged internal organs as well as a parasite have been found in the carcass of a whale that was found along Sungai Sarang Buaya near Batu Pahat.

Johor Fisheries Department director Munir Mohd Nawi said an initial post mortem discovered small pieces of plastic garbage that had already decayed.

“We also found a large quantity of mud in its breathing organs,” he said, adding that this had caused breathing difficulties for the whale.

“There is also a high number of orange-coloured nematode parasite within its intestines.

“During the post mortem, we also found its internal organs to be badly damaged,” he said when contacted.

Last Monday, the 12m-long male Sei Whale weighing 15 tonnes was seen at Pantai Rambah in Pontian where it had beached itself.

A group of people managed to pull it into deeper waters.

However, the carcass of the whale was found 90 nautical miles at the river mouth of Sungai Sarang Buaya the next day.

Munir said the department would be conducting a histopathalogy (microscopic tissue examination) on the whale’s tissue to find out further details about its death.

Tissue samples would be taken to a laboratory, and the results were expected within the next two or three weeks.

“We want to know its exact cause of death as the Sei Whale is an endangered species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” he said.

The bones of the mammal would be placed at the department’s temporary gallery as part of its educational programme for the public.

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Malaysia: Heavy rains in the south, warm up north until April

The Star 12 Feb 16;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians down south can expect rainy weather to persist until April while those up north will have to bear with warm days.

Malaysian Meteorological Depart-ment deputy director-general Alui Bahari said the current weather pattern was typical of the northeast monsoon season, which started in November.

“It is normal that during its final phase – from February until March – for the monsoon rains to be more concentrated over the southern peninsula and west Sarawak,” he said when contacted by The Star.

States experiencing heavy rains include Johor, Negri Sembilan and Malacca.

The highest rainfall for the Kuching, Samarahan, Serian, Sri Aman and Betong divisions was also recorded during January and February, compared with other months.

“On the other hand, the central and northern peninsula, eastern Sarawak and Sabah are experiencing hot and warm weather due to lesser rainfall during this period,” he said.

Lubok Merbau in Perak recorded a maximum temperature of 37°C on Jan 23 while the rest of the country recorded about 35°C.

“There’s a possibility of drought conditions in northern Perak, Penang, Kedah, Perlis and Kelantan,” said Alui.

He said the central region, including the Klang Valley, would get some respite with isolated showers and thunderstorms during this period.

Alui said the inter-monsoon season from April would ring heavy rains to the west coast, from Perlis to Johor along with inland areas in Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.

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Malaysia: Over 1,700 in Sarawak flood relief centres

New Straits Times 12 Feb 16;

KUCHING: The number of flood victims at the eight evacuation centres in Kuching and Serian as at 8am today remained the same as that of last night.

Sarawak Civil Defence Department public relations officer Siti Huzaimah Ibrahim said there were still 1,748 people from 479 families at the centres.

However, she expected some of the relief centres to be closed today when the evacuees returned home as the flood situation was improving.

She said the high tide phenomenon was among the causes of the floods in the affected areas.--BERNAMA

700 flood victims return home in Sarawak
The Star 12 Feb 16;

KUCHING: Nearly 700 flood victims in southern Sarawak have returned to their homes and four relief centres have been closed as water levels begin to recede.

As of 1pm yesterday, 4,837 people from 1,378 families remained at 20 centres in Kuching and four in Serian, compared to 5,533 victims on Wednesday.

Four centres in Bau, which were still open yesterday, closed by the afternoon as the evacuees, totalling 503 from 112 families, were able to return home.

According to the Drainage and Irrigation Department’s InfoBanjir portal, river levels in the state have returned to normal.

Meanwhile, 10 people from two families were still at the flood relief centre at Sekolah Spang Loi in the Segamat district in Johor yesterday.

In Malacca, all of the 44 remaining flood evacuees from 11 families returned to their homes yesterday from the relief centre at Sekolah Kebangsaan Belimbing Dalam in Alor Gajah.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim urged flood evacuees to register themselves to ensure that there was a record to facilitate distribution of aid and avert any problems. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Sun Bear Run nothing to do with conservation efforts, says NGO

RUBEN SARIO The Star 11 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Officials at Sabah’s only sun bear conservation centre are seeing red over the move to use the endangered animal as the theme for a profit run.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) chief executive Wong Siew Te (pic) said the organiser's move to use sun bears was wrong.

“We condemn any parties who use the name of endangered species and exploit them for their own benefit.

“Regretfully we learnt that this run is not a charity event where the profits will help the works to conserve sun bears in Sabah,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

Wong said the conservation centre had nothing to do with the run that was scheduled to be held here on Feb 28.

He said it was important for the public to be aware that the so-called Sun Bear Run was just theme of the sports event organised by the local company and an event management firm.

“We wish to advise the public to be clear about the nature of similar events so that they do not end up paying to take part thinking that they are helping wildlife,” he said.

The conservation centre located at Sepilok in east coast Sandakan was opened two years ago for the rehabilitation of rescued sun bears, apart from carrying out awareness, conservation and research activities.

BSBCC is the only facility of its kind in the world and is currently caring for 37 rescued bears.

Centre has nothing to do with Sun Bear Run
The Star 12 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Officials at Sabah’s only sun bear conservation centre are seeing red over a company’s move to use the endangered animal as the theme for its event.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) chief executive Wong Siew Te said the company’s move to use the sun bears for the run was wrong.

“We condemn anyone who uses the name of endangered species and exploits them for their own benefit,” he said yesterday.

“Regretfully we learnt that this run is not a charity event where the profits will help in the conservation of the sun bear in Sabah,” he added.

Wong said the conservation centre had nothing to do with the run that was scheduled to be held here on Feb 28.

He said it was important for the public to be aware that the so called “Sun Bear Run” was just a theme for the event organised by a local company and event management firm.

“We wish to advise the public to be clear about the nature of similar events so that they do not end up paying to take part thinking that they are helping wildlife conservation,” he said.

The conservation centre located at Sepilok in east coast Sandakan was opened two years ago for the rehabilitation of rescued sun bears, apart from carrying out awareness and research activities.

The centre is the only facility of its kind in the world and is currently caring for 37 rescued bears.

A check on the web page showed that the Sun Bear Run was to be held at Tanjung Aru near here.

Sabah Wildlife not connected to wildlife-themed sports events
The Star 13 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Those participating in wildlife-themed sports events such as the Sun Bear Run on Feb 28, should be aware that none of the proceeds from such events go towards environmental conservation purposes.

Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya said many who took part in similar events, like the rhino and elephant runs, were under the impression that part of the fees collected by the organisers would go towards conservation efforts.

“This is not the case at all, and the public should be aware of this,” he said yesterday.

He said the department had nothing to do with these wildlife-themed runs that were being organised by a Kota Kinabalu-based company.

“As far as I am concerned, these are not charity runs and in no way have any funds been channelled to the department,” William added.

While the company concerned was free to use the names of wildlife species for its events, it should not give the impression that the money collected from the participants would go towards conservation,” he said.

On Thursday, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) chief executive Wong Siew Te said the group had nothing to do with the Sun Bear Run to be held here at the end of the month.

We didn't endorse Sun Bear Run, says Sabah Wildlife Dept
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 12 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department does not support a local running event dubbed the Sun Bear Run, scheduled to take place on Feb 28.

Its director William Baya said as far as the department was concerned, the event was not a charity run.

“We are in no way supporting or co-organising these so-called wildlife themed runs organised by a local company here.

“There are also no funds being channelled to the department for conservation purposes from previous similar running events supposedly for elephants and rhinoceros,” he said in a statement.

William said company organising these runs was free to use the names of such wildlife species as long as they did not give a misleading impression to the public.

“It has come to my attention that many of those who registered for these runs had thought that a large portion of the fees is actually being channelled back into conservation, which is not the case."

Yesterday, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said the runs neither benefit the centre nor the animal.

BSBCC condemned parties who use the names of wildlife species for their own benefit and advised the public to be wary of events that exploit the names of endangered animals.

Scheduled to be held at Tanjung Aru, the 9km Sun Bear Run tickets are priced between RM51.25 and RM92.25, and are sold online.

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Indonesia: Locals engage in communal efforts to beat back dengue outbreak

Andi Hajramurni and Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post 11 Feb 16;

Residents in dengue fever-prone regions are intensifying their collective efforts to prevent the spread of the mosquito-borne disease, which has killed dozens of people and hospitalized thousands of others since the beginning of the year.

In the South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar, Eko, a local resident, said he and other residents in his neighborhood now cleaned up their environment once a week upon learning that dengue fever, locally known as DBD, had been spreading in the province over the past couple of months.

The effort has so far delivered positive results as nobody in Eko’s neighborhood has contracted dengue fever over the past few weeks.

“We thoroughly cleaned up ditches to help the water flow so that mosquitoes would not lay their eggs there,” said the 31-year-old man, whose house is located on Jl. Batua in downtown Makassar.

Didi Hernald, 37, another local resident, shared a similar story. He also told his family members to be cautious with the presence of mosquitoes in their house.

“When we find mosquitoes in our house, we try to kill it with mosquito repellent or fans. Alhamdulillah (thank God) my family and neighbors have not been infected with DBD,” he said.

Home to some 1.4 million people, Makassar is relatively secure from the disease, with the local health agency recording only 32 dengue fever cases in January.

As of Wednesday, 11 out of the 24 regions in South Sulawesi, including North Luwu and Pangkajene Islands (Pangkep), have declared their dengue outbreaks extraordinary occurrences after the disease claimed the lives of 14 people and hospitalized more than 1,800 others during the first five weeks of the year.

A similar situation has also occurred in other regions, including in Gorontalo, Tangerang in Banten and Gianyar in Bali.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads dengue fever. After a person has been bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito it takes four to 10 days for symptoms to manifest. The most common symptoms are high fever, severe headache, nausea, swollen glands and joint pain.

The disease can be deadly when a patient experiences plasma leakage, fluid accumulation, respiratory distress, severe bleeding or organ impairment.

With the absence of a vaccine to protect against dengue, vector control is the only method available for the prevention and control of the disease.

Another approach will also soon be tested in Yogyakarta, as a group of Gadjah Mada University researchers with the Eliminate Dengue Project (EDP) are scheduled to release in June mosquitoes that carry a bacteria called Wolbachia into the region in an effort to eliminate dengue fever.

The mosquitoes will later spread the bacteria, which can suppress the development of the dengue virus, through breeding.

While alternative approaches still need some time to be tested for their effectiveness, the government has called on citizens to maintain cleanliness and to eliminate Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which also carry the Zika and chikungunya viruses.

In Pangkep, the local Health Agency recorded last month 269 suspected DBD cases. 52 were declared positive for dengue fever. One patient did not survive.

Agency head Indriati Latif said Tuesday the figure continued to decrease thanks to intensive fumigation and the collective efforts from local residents to clean up their environment.

“In the last two days, no new dengue fever patients have been admitted to the hospital,” said Indriati, adding that there were currently 13 DBD patients being treated at local hospitals.

In Papua, the provincial Health Agency reported that 47 cases of DBD had been found in the region since last month, 20 of which were found in the provincial capital of Jayapura.

In Semarang, Central Java Health Agency head Yulianto Prabowo underlined the importance of eradicating mosquito nests en masse to halt the breeding of either Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus, the vectors of DBD, Chikungunya and Zika.

Central Java has recorded 15 fatalities due to DBD out of the 1,080 cases of DBD reported.

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Country Garden’s ambition in Malaysia backed by Johor’s royal family

Forest City project will include apartments, villas, schools, hospitals, an exhibition centre and a financial special administrative region
South China Morning Post 11 Feb 16;

Despite concerns over oversupply, leading Chinese developer Country Garden expresses full confidence in its city building plan in Malaysia, which is backed up by a deep relationship with local royalty.

In its second project in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor, the Guangdong-based developer plans to invest a total of 25 billion yuan (HK$29.6 billion) over 20 years to build a “Forest City” on 14 square kilometres of land.

It is developing the project in partnership with Esplanade Danga 88, an associate company of Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ), through a joint venture, Country Garden Pacific View (CGPV), with Country Garden holding a 60 per cent stake.

The largest shareholder of Esplanade Danga 88 is Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, making Forest City a joint venture between Country Garden and the Johor monarch.

“To survive [in Malaysia], you must have close relationship with the state government,” a senior manager at CGPV said, adding that Country Garden chairman Yang Guoqiang and the sultan were very close friends, meeting and having dinner together about every two months.

Whenever there are complaints or other issues from the Malaysian or Singaporean government, we have channels for talkCGPV EXECUTIVE
The relationship had helped Country Garden achieve smooth communication with governments.

“I used to work for a federal [government] department; it was the sultan asked me to join,” he said. “We have quarterly meetings with state government. Whenever there are complaints or other issues from the Malaysian or Singaporean government, we have channels for talk.”

Country Garden also acquired the land much more cheaply than the prices other Chinese developers have had to pay.

The Forest City project will include apartments, villas, schools, hospitals, an exhibition centre and a financial special administrative region. Country Garden said pre-sales of apartments would kick off in the first half of this year.

The project was challenged by Malaysia’s environment department of Environment in 2014, but the sultan backed Country Garden.

“Such action obstructs the state’s development and causes investors to run elsewhere,” he said in a speech.

Forest City is planned to be built on four man-made islands and there were calls for its suspension due to the lack of an environmental impact assessment. It was restarted last year after obtaining final approval from the Malaysian environmental authorities after an assessment.

“No business can always be smooth sailing,” Yang told Singapore media last year. “The most important thing is that we are law-abiding.”

But the close relationship is not enough for Country Garden to gain a firm foothold in Malaysia.

Local industry insiders said Country Garden’s guts and speed had seen it beat many local developers.

“They work like 24 hours,” said Alan Ho, a local property agent, unlike local developers, whose workers only worked from 8am to 5pm and took three breaks a day.

The senior CGPV executive said: “I’m very impressed with the way Chinese developers do business, they have the positivity to make things happen.”

Country Garden’s fast execution is famous among Chinese developers, which led to success in home sales in China’s third- and fourth-tier cities, where demand is relatively poor.

Country Garden agrees there is a temporary oversupply in Johor, but says it is taking a long view and expect the projects will benefit from economic growth and improving ties between Singapore and Malaysia.

“It’s like we are investing in Shenzhen 10 years ago,” Country Garden president Mo Bin said.

Multiple headwinds for Chinese property developers in Malaysia
South China Morning Post 11 Feb 16;

Country Garden’s Danga Bay Project in Johor, Malaysia which will provide 9,500 flats, with 70 per cent of the units sold since 2013. Photo: SCMP

Country Garden’s Danga Bay Project in Johor, Malaysia which will provide 9,500 flats, with 70 per cent of the units sold since 2013. Photo: SCMP
Crossing the border into Malaysia from Singapore, new buildings sprout along the frontier dividing the two countries came into view. Interestingly, most of them are made in China.

Mainland developers who had flocked to build homes in mainland China’s third or fourth tier cities years ago resulting in a glut have turned their sights to the overseas market.

Malaysia’s Johor state, just across the border from Singapore, has emerged as their target but developers are now facing the same challenge they face back home - an oversupplied market.

Guangdong-based Country Garden was the first to invest in Malaysia’s Iskandar development zone in southern Johor. The hot spot has soon attracted China’s leading developers like R&F Properties and Greenland Group which joined and invested nearly 50 billion yuan (HK$59 billion).

But three years after its presale in 2013, Country Garden’s first project of Danga Bay offering 45 high-rise condominiums with a total of 9,500 units has only sold 70 per cent.

R&F’s Princess Cove, a 30,000 unit project, is in worst shape. According to two local agents, it has sold less than half of the 3,000 units that went on pre-sale since 2014. R&F has declined to comment.

Other developers include China Vanke and the Greenland Group.

The quantity of new homes in Johor had raised concern by Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, who told the nation’s Parliament last year that the 336,000 new residential units currently planned for Johor already outnumber the 327,811 private homes in Singapore and would depress prices.

“These are not homes built for us. We can’t afford them,” said Kelvin, a driver in Johor. “Most local people prefer living in houses.”

According to Khazanah Research Institute, the median monthly wage in Johor is only RM 1,517 (HK$2,804), while Danga Bay is selling at RM 1,000 per square feet.

Indeed, these luxury flats are built for rich Singaporean and Chinese buyers.

Malaysia is aiming to attract foreign investment and homebuyers, especially from mainland China. Meanwhile Chinese developers want to take the advantage of loosened immigration policies and the unique location of Johor, whose prices are one fourth that of neighbouring Singapore.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and the shooting down of another Malaysian jet in Ukraine scared off scores of potential investors.

What made it worse is the glut in Johor has come much sooner than expected.

Johor’s supply of high-rise residential property increased 21 per cent in 2015 from a year ago to 40,776 units -- almost double the supply in 2011, resulting in prices falling 10 per cent to RM400 per square feet last year, according to property services firm C H Williams Talhar & Wong.

“Chinese developers have put a lot supply in the market, their projects are very large,” said Nicholas Holt, Asia Pacific Research Director at Knight Frank.

Property portal The Edge Property, citing a Malaysian developer, estimates the new supply in Iskanda is close to 60,000 units in the pipeline, with most Chinese developments that are to be completed in 2017 and 2018.

Singapore’s government has warned its citizens of the risks in investing in Johor.

“Lands are being reclaimed in Johor, there will be as much land as you want,” said Hoffman Tsui Kam-tim, executive director of Guangdong-based KWG Property. Tsui said they did field research in Malaysia and decided not to enter, adding that the depreciation of its Ringgit currency also piled on the pressure to the market.

Chinese developers have also encountered a series of policy risks.

Malaysia Government has raised the threshold of property buying for foreigners to RM1 million from RM500,000 to cool down housing market in 2014. It has also kept increasing the property tax for disposal in recent years.

Another big barrier is the units are out of the reach of most local buyers, making it very hard for Chinese developments to be welcomed by people on the ground.

Country Garden’s second mega project Forest City, which planned to build four man-made islands through reclamation at the junction of Singapore and Malaysia, was suspended by Johor state government in June 2014 due to environmental and political concerns from both sides. The project didn’t restart until last year.

According to Country Garden Malaysia senior management, their hiring of local staff is still at a very low level, about 20 per cent.

“The local people are complaining, these properties are just too expensive, what do we benefit?” said Datuk Phang Ah Tong, Deputy Chief Executive at Malaysian Investment Development Authority.

“Chinese developers bring almost everything from China. We want them to make full use of Malaysian products, suppliers and workers.”

“We are an open economy and welcome foreign investment. Still, you need get people to support you,” Phang said.

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Rejuvenating reefs

Though pollution and overuse are damaging corals, their biodiversity offers hope for their future
The Economist 13 Feb 16;

THE waters off the Hawaiian island of Oahu are visited each winter by migrating marine mammals such as humpback whales. All year round they are home to much smaller animals that form vast reefs: corals. Intricate pink structures stand out amid contortions of vegetable-green ones; dark-striped fish flit among them and turtles hover above. Corals lay down limestone skeletons of different shapes and sizes: branching types like small trees; ground-huggers spreading squat.

The colours that lure snorkelling and scuba-driving tourists are produced bysingle-celled algae that grow symbiotically in corals’ tissue. These use carbon dioxide respired by their host to make oxygen and carbohydrates through photosynthesis, giving corals most of the energy they need to form their skeletons. But this delicate balance is threatened by humans, both in the short term and over the coming years.

Overfishing, tourism and pollution are the most immediate perils, disrupting reefs’ ecosystems and the ability of corals’ algae to photosynthesise. In the longer term, rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will hit reefs in two ways. Oceans absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, which makes them more acidic; as concentrations of carbon dioxide in the water rise, it will be harder for coral skeletons to calcify. And as oceans warm, corals will lose their colourful algae, which can only cope within a narrow range of temperatures. Reefs will be reduced to bleached-looking skeletons, vulnerable to disease.

Only twice before has such bleaching occurred worldwide. The first time coincided with El Niño in 1997-98, the world’s largest climatic phenomenon, which causes surface temperatures to soar in the Pacific Ocean. The second was in 2010. A third is now under way. About 16% of corals died in the 1997-98 disaster. The current bleaching event, once more occurring alongside a Niño, may have affected 38% of the world’s corals. Conditions now may offer a foretaste of the damage climate change could wreak on these already vulnerable ecosystems.

The harm before the storm

Coral reefs are found from the Middle East to Australia and America. They cover less than 0.1% of the ocean floor. But their importance is far greater than that figure suggests. They protect 150,000km (93,000 miles) of shoreline in more than 100 countries and territories by acting as coastal buffers, enduring the brunt of high waves and rough weather. They also support perhaps a quarter of all marine species, and act as nurseries for many others. In South-East Asian waters, the richest reefs are in the “coral triangle” (see map). This area of 86,500 square km holds two-thirds of the world’s coral species and more than 3,000 species of reef fish—twice as many as are found anywhere else.

More fish to fry

In the past half-century, though, these beautiful, biodiverse structures have been put under pressure by human activity. About a quarter of all coral cover has died. The reefs that are in worst shape are those off the most crowded beaches. “People don’t leave enough time for their sun cream to soak in, so it gets in the water,” says one deckhand with Eo Wai’anae Tours, which organises boat trips off Oahu.

More damage is caused by fertiliser-rich run-off from farms, leading to algal blooms which block light the corals need. Fishing near reefs cuts the number of herbivorous fish, allowing vegetation to grow out of control. Some fishing methods are particularly harmful: for example, blast fishermen in Colombia, Tanzania and elsewhere use dynamite to stun and kill fish without regard to the harm done to nearby reefs.

Crown-of-thorns starfish, coral-chompers that have proliferated in some areas, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, add to the stress. In the South China Seaisland-building and fishing for giant clams are crushing some reefs beyond the possibility of recovery (see article). The World Resources Institute, a think-tank, estimates that about 60% of reefs face such immediate threats.

The bounty that reefs provide accrues to those living near them, and in the short term. Without strong property rights, the result is an unfolding tragedy of the commons, in which fishermen and tour operators destroy the resources they rely on.

Tourism generated by the Great Barrier Reef is worth about $4.6 billion annually to nearby Queensland alone. Australian bigwigs bent over backwards last year to keep the UN from listing the reef, a World Heritage Site, as “in danger”. Estimates suggest that the economic value of Martinique and Saint Lucia’s corals comes to $50,000 per square km each year, thanks largely to tourism. But overdevelopment threatens the reefs the visitors come to gawp at. Sediment from construction clouds waters, burying corals and blocking the light they need. Hotels close to the shore may be convenient for tourists, but the process of building them can kill the reefs that snorkellers like to swim over.

The mix of problems varies from place to place, meaning policies must be locally tailored to tackle them. But even when governments and environmentalists focus on the long term, the need to limit fishing means they often struggle to craft policies that do not cause immediate harm to poor people. The three countries with the largest numbers of people who fish on reefs are all in the coral-triangle region: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. In Indonesia and in the Philippines, up to 1m people’s livelihoods depend on reefs.

Averting a tragedy of the commons means agreeing which activities should be restricted and enforcing the rules. For coral reefs—and other biodiverse marine environments—the usual approach is to give ecologically sensitive areas special status under local or regional laws. In such “marine protected areas” (MPAs), activities that are deemed harmful, such as fishing, drilling and mining, can then be restricted or banned, with penalties for rule-breakers.

Command and conquer

The Aichi targets, agreed in 2010 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, seek to reduce “anthropogenic pressures” on coral reefs to “maintain their integrity and function”. The aim is to have at least 17% of inland water and 10% of coastal and marine areas under conservation by 2020. Most countries have signed up. But the targets are far from being met. Less than 3% of the ocean’s surface is within an MPA.

The most urgent action is needed close to shore. The nearer humans are to reefs, the worse their effect on the fragile ecosystems. A global register of fishing vessels, long under discussion, would also help identify wrongdoers. And beefing up the UN law of the sea could inspire further action. Decades old, it has little to say about biodiversity.

But simply declaring an area protected does not make it so. In 2009 George Bush junior, then president of America, established three national marine monuments in the Pacific, including nearly 518,000 square km of coral islands and surrounding areas. Their remoteness makes it hard to stop vessels entering illegally; Hawaii’s coastguard is already stretched.

Satellites are sometimes used to police MPAs, but they pass over infrequently. In the future, sailing robots could play a larger role. America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been working with a private firm, Saildrone, on hardy models equipped with carbon-fibre fins. They cost less than $500,000 each and can roam remote ocean regions for months, making them far cheaper than manned boats.

Such drones could photograph rogue fishing vessels, obtaining hard-to-gather evidence for any criminal proceedings. And they could carry out other useful work at the same time, such as monitoring ocean temperature and acidity or tracking tagged members of endangered species. Saildrone plans to provide its robots as a service, so that universities and other cash-strapped organisations do not have to buy one outright.

Richer countries are better able both to administer and to enforce MPAs. Three-quarters of coral reefs in Australian waters are in MPAs, but only 16% of those within the coral triangle. “It is difficult to ensure systematic monitoring,” says Rusty Brainard of NOAA, who has advised marine scientists in the region. Indonesia has more than 17,500 islands, he points out.

In poor parts of the world, low-tech methods of surveillance are needed. Just 0.09% of Malaysia’s territorial waters, and those within its exclusive economic zone, are protected by an MPA. But a national programme requires fishermen to paint their vessels according to how far out they have permission to fish within the nearshore area. Other fishermen can then spot when a rogue vessel has strayed, even if they cannot read. And as boats require regular painting anyway, little extra cost falls on their owners.

Public-private partnerships could also help. A pilot project in Barbados, supported in part by local hoteliers and tourism organisations, will charge visitors to enter a coastal MPA managed by Blue Finance, an alternative-investment outfit with support from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). About $1m was needed to set up the area; its upkeep will require half that each year. “We find private investors who don’t mind if their returns are a little below market rates because they are benefiting Barbados,” says Nicolas Pascal, an environmental economist who directs the company.

Other pilots are under way in Colombia and Martinique. But more backers are needed. According to research conducted under the Convention on Biological Diversity, investment will need to quintuple for the Aichi targets and other conservation goals to be met.

The effectiveness of marine reserves is hard to measure. Reefs are complex, ancient systems, and the effects of better policies will become known only gradually. “You can’t manage ecosystems: you can only manage the impact of humans upon them,” says Jerker Tamelander, the head of the reef unit at UNEP.

Even if the right policies are adopted to keep corals healthy in the immediate future, longer-term threats loom. Neither oceanic warming nor acidification can be kept out by an MPA. And both may be happening too fast for corals to adapt, especially as recent global climate deals will not slow them much. Back slaps and handshakes accompanied the inclusion of an aim to limit global warming to just 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the Paris Agreement last year. But only an incorrigible optimist would bet on that aim being achieved. And even if it is, that much warming could breach the environmental limits within which most reefs can thrive.

Nurture, not nature

So researchers are turning their attention to ways to help corals cope. Their global diversity, scientists hope, may hold the key. The same coral will grow differently under different conditions: corals of the western Pacific near Indonesia, for example, can withstand higher temperatures than the same species in the eastern Pacific near Hawaii. Such disparities can be found even quite locally. In Kane’ohe Bay, where the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology lies, 70% of some reef patches has been bleached in the current event. Others, less than 200 metres away, suffered bleaching to just 40% of their corals.

The characteristics that help some reefs survive unusual conditions could allow others to endure climate change. But tough corals from one place cannot simply be transplanted to another. So a team at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology is in the early stages of engineering reef ecosystems, with $4m from the Paul G. Allen Foundation, a charity set up by Bill Gates’s former business partner.

Organisms respond to environmental changes through both genetic processes (adaptation) and non-genetic ones (acclimatisation). With corals, the nature of their symbiotic relationships can also alter. So selectively breeding and conditioning them, and investigating whether certain types of algae confer resistance to heat or acidity, could create hardier varieties faster than they would develop naturally.

These could then be used to repopulate ravaged reefs—once more is known about how and where to transplant them. “We’re assisting evolution,” explains Ruth Gates, who leads the research. Her team aims to help corals withstand changing ocean temperature and chemistry. Despite all her effort, she says: “if the tools we develop are never used, I would be the happiest person in the world.”

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Toxic chemicals found in beached pilot whales in Scotland

Scientists find levels of mercury and cadmium in the whales’ brains increased with age
Severin Carrell The Guardian 11 Feb 16;

Scientists have found clear evidence that whales are absorbing high levels of toxic heavy metals, with cadmium found in the brains of pilot whales which washed up in Scotland.

Chemists at the University of Aberdeen said they had found cadmium in all the organs of adult long-finned pilot whales which stranded in 2012, including their brain.

The research shows for the first time that cadmium – known to pass into the brains of infant and unborn whales - had also passed across the so-called blood-brain barrier in adult whales.

They said their findings also suggested that mercury concentrations could be increasing high enough in the seas “to lead to additional toxic stress in the long-lived marine mammals”, with higher concentrations increasing with age.

The team, lead by Dr Eva Krupp, an environmental analytical chemist, tested the remains of 21 long-finned pilot whales which died in a mass grounding between Anstruther and Pittenweem in Fife in September 2012.

There have been a series of recent whale strandings, with the most dramatic in the UK taking place in Norfolk in January and early February. Six sperm whales washed up over a series of days along beaches in East Anglia, in a stranding linked to other recent groundings by sperm whales in Germany and France. Cetacean experts are currently testing samples to investigate possible reasons why.

“We were able to gather an unprecedented number of tissue samples from all the major organs including the brain and as a result we can see for the first time the long term effects of mammalian exposure to the environmental pollutants,” Krupp said of the whales that stranded in 2012.

“This pod of whales provides unique new insights because we were able to look at the effects on a large number of whales from the same pod and how this varied according to age.”

The university said that in three of the whales aged nine years or older, the mercury concentrations were higher than the toxic levels which would cause severe neurological damage in humans.

The industrial revolution and the use of mercury in gold-mining have greatly increased mercury concentrations in the seas, leading to their absorption by marine species.

“As well as an increased concentration of mercury in the brain as the whales become older, we see a similar effect with cadmium, which has not been previously reported,” Krupp added.

“It is known that cadmium can penetrate the blood brain barrier in the new-born or developmental stages but it was not thought to do so in adults. Our findings are significant because we can demonstrate for the first time that cadmium is in the brain tissue and that its levels increase with age.

“Although the body has a natural defence mechanism in the form of the element selenium, which detoxifies these harmful chemicals, we found that the majority of selenium is not available for the synthesis of essential proteins in older animals. This indicates that the longer mammals live, the less able they may be to cope with the toxic effects.”

“So far, we have no indication that the mercury and cadmium levels in the brain cause disorientation, which in some cases can lead to strandings, but there is a potential for higher stress in these iconic animals due to rising toxic metal concentration in the oceans,” Dr Krupp added.

“More research is needed to investigate whether this is a factor in strandings, particularly where other explanations such as illness or weather events cannot be found.”

The findings are reported in the journal, Science of The Total Environment.

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