Best of our wild blogs: 19 Feb 16

8th Singapore Raptor Watch Report
Singapore Bird Group

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Why make it so hard to read impact assessment report?

Straits Times Forum 19 Feb 16;

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the impact of the upcoming Cross Island Line on the highly sensitive parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is open to public viewing and feedback, but only through appointment at the Land Transport Authority (LTA) headquarters ("Measures to lessen impact of MRT works on S'pore's largest nature reserve: LTA"; ST Online, Feb 5, and "Tests on nature reserve must be conducted with care: Study"; Feb 11).

Many statutory boards and ministries publish key policy documents and collect feedback online. So, why is public viewing and feedback for a 1,000-page document like this not done online?

How can members of the public meaningfully read, understand and comment on such a document within the timeframe provided?

Moreover, if viewing is available only during office hours, then, that makes it even more inconvenient to view the findings.

With this arrangement, the LTA effectively limits the number of people who can access the EIA, contrary to the spirit of public participation and transparency.

Ezra Ho Suhan

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Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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LTA speaking to those likely to be affected by Cross Island Line’s route

Authorities say they will consider factors such as land use, transport links, and how it will affect residents and businesses before making any decision.
Yeo Kai Ting Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has started speaking to people likely to be affected by the construction of the proposed route for the Cross Island Line, it said. The upcoming MRT line is set to run from Jurong, past Clementi, before ending in Changi.

Said the deputy chief executive of infrastructure and development at LTA, Chua Chong Kheng: "The Government has not yet made the decision on which option to pursue. If the direct alignment is chosen, construction of the MRT tunnel will be via underground tunnelling methods, and will be done from outside the nature reserve.

“And there will be no structures on the surface level of the CCNR, which is the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. For the skirting alignment, the underground MRT tunnels may go through homes, businesses and buildings, and hence, acquisition may be needed."

Authorities said they will consider factors such as land use, transport links, and how it will affect residents and businesses before making any decision.

Thomson residents could be among those affected. The area's Member of Parliament (MP) said many residents have lived there for more than 40 years and hence, feel a sense of attachment to the estate.

Said Mr Chong Kee Hiong, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC: "Moving out of the estate, it's not so much about the home. It's more about the families, the memories that they have grown up with. The emotional attachment is difficult for them to break. At the same time, the disruption caused by the construction is also another matter."

Meanwhile, nature groups are hoping that increased awareness about Singapore's biodiversity will get the authorities to rethink the route for the Cross Island Line. The line could possibly cut beneath a one-kilometre stretch of primary forest near MacRitchie Reservoir.

Dr Amy Choong, a volunteer nature guide, and lecturer of Biological Science at the National University Singapore, said: "As people become more and more aware of our native biodiversity, found nowhere else, we hope they will write in to LTA or to give feedback to their Members of Parliament, to the Government. And as more people write in, then the Government will listen to what people want."

To that end, the nature groups have doubled the number of free walking tours for the month of March. Tours for the first half of the month are already fully subscribed.

The groups hope the proposed line can be rerouted south near Lornie Road to avoid the nature reserve entirely.

However, one expert said this may not be feasible due to the curvature of the road. Instead, he proposes going further out.

Professor Lee Der-Horng from the National University of Singapore’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, said: "We may want to consider if we can go through Bukit Brown since Bukit Brown in the future will be developed into a major population or residential area.

“If we let the future Cross Island Line negotiate the curves along Lornie Road, it's going to cause some negative impact on track maintenance and even the tunnel construction."

- CNA/ms

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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Singapore headed for worst dengue year, with 30,000 cases projected

LOUISA TANG Today Online 19 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — The ongoing El Nino phenomenon, along with a change in the type of dengue virus circulating among Singapore’s population, have led the authorities to forecast a historic high of 30,000 dengue cases this year, nearly a third higher than the previous record of 22,170 cases in 2013.

And with the looming threat of the Zika virus — also spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito — adding greater urgency to the need to control the mosquito population, the authorities will be taking early action.

In a media briefing by the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and People’s Association (PA) on Thursday (Feb 18), the authorities announced that the annual Mozzie Wipeout Campaign, held usually around April, will be launched on Feb 28.

The PA has roped in more than 5,000 grassroots leaders and volunteers for house visits targeting areas with a high number of dengue cases, adding to the more than 5,800 NEA-trained volunteers who will advise residents on anti-mosquito breeding and dengue prevention tips.

An NEA spokesperson also said the agency would be implementing more stringent enforcement measures, such as increasing the frequency of inspections at major construction sites from quarterly to monthly. In preparation for the surge in cases, the NEA, which provides dengue diagnostic services to primary healthcare clinics and hospitals, has increased the number of laboratory staff and extended operating hours, by mobilising staff from other research groups.

In an article on the dengue outlook for the year in MOH’s epidemiological news bulletin published last month, researchers noted that the effects of El Nino will contribute to a rise in cases in the coming months.

After El Nino peaked in December 1997, there was a spike in dengue cases in January 1998, followed by another in August.

The latest episode of El Nino, which quickens the breeding and maturation cycles of the Aedes mosquito, began last year, which saw over 11,200 reported dengue cases.

There has been a 50 per cent increase in Aedes mosquitoes caught in the NEA’s Gravitraps in January compared to the same period last year. Household inspections also turned up 50 per cent more breeding sites as compared to the same period last January, with top breeding spots being domestic containers and flower pot plates or trays.

In addition, the DENV-2 virus serotype now accounts for two-thirds of all dengue cases, replacing DENV-1 as the predominant strain. Historically, a change in the predominant virus serotype is usually followed by a spike in dengue cases. The last serotype switch — from DENV-2 to DENV-1 — in 2013 was followed by a sharp dengue outbreak that year.

Associate Professor Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the Duke-NUS Medical School’s Emerging Infectious Disease Programme, said that while dengue forecasting “is an imperfect science as we don’t fully understand all the determinants”, a high number of cases is to be expected this year based on dengue trends so far.

Infectious diseases professor Annelies Wilder-Smith from Nanyang Technological University’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, concurred that the unusual climate conditions, combined with the virus serotype switch, have set the stage for a high epidemic year.

“Furthermore, Singapore has had further population growth. Population density enhances the biting rates and facilitates transmission of dengue virus. With an increasing population size, the absolute numbers of dengue also increase, even if the incidence remains the same,” she added.

More than 3,600 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since January, with two deaths so far.

In previous years, the NEA has stepped up inspections when the number of dengue cases spiked. In 2014 — when there were 18,335 reported cases — the NEA deployed 850 dengue inspectors who conducted more than 3.5 million inspections and destroyed over 18,400 mosquito breeding habitats. Last year, In 2015, the NEA conducted more than 1.4 million inspections and uncovered more than 19,000 instances of mosquito breeding.

More mosquito traps, manpower to combat possible dengue epidemic: NEA
Singapore's National Environment Agency puts forth an enhanced dengue outbreak response plan in view of a record-breaking number of dengue cases expected in 2016.
Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) on Thursday (Feb 18) unveiled a stepped-up, six-pronged dengue outbreak response plan after it was announced there could be a record 30,000 dengue cases in Singapore this year.

Firstly, the number of mosquito traps will be increased from 4,000 to about 30,000 across 5,000 public housing blocks, with another 20,000 traps to be rolled out to the remaining 3,000 blocks by June.

NEA also said that the expected increase in dengue cases will see a corresponding surge in diagnostic requests at primary healthcare clinics and hospitals. To deal with this, there will be an increased number of laboratory staff - mobilised from other research groups - and extended operating hours. NEA will also continue to perform serotyping and sequencing of dengue cases to help detect any emergence of the Zika virus - recently declared an international public health emergency.

Third, since 2015, NEA has increased dengue control efforts against construction sites - which are susceptible to breeding mosquitoes with high density of larvae. These include stepping up the inspection frequency of dedicated construction site teams from quarterly to monthly and publishing online a list of sites issued with stop-work orders. NEA will also request temperature screening regimes for workers, encourage them to apply insect repellent as well as to sleep under bed-nets or in air-conditioned sick bays to ward off mosquitoes.

NEA also revealed it was intensifying its outbreak preparedness by bringing forward its annual mobilisation of Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force members to conduct source reduction and killing of adult mosquitoes.

Fifth, NEA said it has been successfully trialing the use of radio-controlled aerial inspection crafts (RAIC) to survey roof gutters elevated beyond safety limits for its officers. There are plans to expand the trial to include an RAIC that can deposit larvicide to destroy mosquito larvae.

Finally, NEA said it will be engaging additional temporary officers to augment its workforce and better manage a dengue outbreak. These officers will help out with the likes of ground inspection, logistics and trap deployment.


NEA has also released a list of recommended practices for members of the public.

Practice the five-step “Mozzie Wipeout” on alternate days
Apply repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants
Spray insecticide in dark corners of the home such as under the bed and sofa, and behind curtains
Cover up toilet bowls, sinks and gully traps and ensure there is no stagnant water at home before going on vacation
Seek medical treatment early if feeling unwell
Participate in dengue prevention campaigns in the neighbourhood
- CNA/jo

More than 30,000 dengue cases expected in Singapore this year: NEA, MOH
Authorities warn that factors such as warmer temperatures and a growing mosquito population could result in a record-breaking number of dengue cases in 2016.
Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of dengue cases in Singapore this year may exceed 30,000, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013, the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Thursday (Feb 18).

This is due to factors such as warmer conditions brought about by the El Nino weather phenomenon, faster breeding and maturation cycles of the Aedes mosquito population and a change in the main circulating dengue virus, said both agencies at a joint media briefing.

Singapore has seen more than 3,400 dengue cases reported since January, with two deaths so far.

NEA said the number of Aedes mosquito breeding found in homes has increased by 50 per cent compared to the same period in January 2015, with majority of breeding found in domestic containers and flower pot plates and trays.

The dominant dengue virus has also switched from DENV-1 to DENV-2. Historically, any change in predominant dengue virus serotype is usually followed by a spike in dengue cases, said NEA.

The environment agency also noted that the Zika virus is transmitted via the Aedes mosquito as well. MOH said its proposed Clinical Advisory Group for the Zika virus has already been set up and held its first meeting on Wednesday. The Group will advise medical practitioners on how to answer questions from concerned pregnant mothers. The Zika virus can spread from an infected mother to a foetus, possibly causing brain damage and microcephaly.


Authorities stated that they will continue with efforts to suppress the increasing Aedes mosquito population by closely monitoring and acting on dengue-active public areas and potential mosquito breeding habitats.

More than 126,000 inspections have been conducted islandwide since Jan 31, uncovering more than 1,900 instances of mosquito breeding.

Authorities also urged members of the public to play their part to keep dengue cases down.

Hence, the annual “Do the Mozzie Wipeout” campaign has been brought forward ahead of the traditional mid-year dengue peak season, announced NEA.

The campaign will be launched island-wide next Sunday (Feb 28), and calls on the community to take appropriate precautions to prevent mosquito breeding over a two-week period to cover two rounds of the mosquito breeding cycle.

More than 5,000 People's Association grassroots leaders and volunteers will conduct house visits in dengue cluster areas to disseminate prevention messages in the months ahead.

NEA said it has trained more than 5,800 Dengue Prevention Volunteers so far to help advise residents on anti-mosquito breeding and dengue prevention tips. More dengue alert banners will also be put up in cluster areas.


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World Pangolin Day in focus at Night Safari

World Pangolin Day aims to raise awareness of the plight of the scaly mammals which are poached more than elephants and rhinos combined.
Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: Want to get up close with pangolins in Singapore? Members of the public will get their chance on Saturday (Feb 20) at the Night Safari as part of World Pangolin Day.

In a media release on Thursday, the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said that two special sessions of Keeper Talks – at 7.45pm and 8.45pm – are part of efforts to save the world’s most heavily-trafficked mammal from extinction. Night Safari admission charges apply for those wishing to join the talks.

World Pangolin Day, which falls on Feb 20, aims to raise awareness of the plight of these scaly mammals, which are poached more than elephants and rhinos combined. It is believed that in the past 10 years more than 1 million of them have been traded illegally.

Along with the talks, the WRS is supporting a number of pangolin conservation and research programmes through its conservation fund. These include tracking pangolins in the wild with radio and GPS tags.

The Night Safari is also home to the world’s first conservation breeding programme for the Sunda pangolin. The species has been listed as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

The Night Safari currently houses seven Sunda pangolins in its protection, two of which were born under human care.

“The plight facing pangolins is devastating and if we want to win the battle against the illegal wildlife trade, we must educate people and inspire compassion and respect for nature and animals,” said Dr Sonja Luz, director of Conservation & Research at WRS. “Our local research and conservation efforts contribute to a better understanding of the biology and urban ecology of pangolins. Through our captive breeding efforts, we are able to raise more awareness about the amazing creatures.”

To further reach out to children, the WRS has published a book titled 'Why did the pangolin cross the road?'. The illustrated anecdote, which is in both English and Chinese, is inspired by one of the seven pangolins at the Night Safari.

A Singapore pangolin working group has also been formed to gather feedback on outreach and research activities to maximise conservation efforts.

- CNA/ek

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Malaysia: Taking monkeys seriously

VINCENT TAN The Star 19 Feb 16;

NOW that we are in the Year of the Monkey, it pays to know your apes.

While the iconic orang utan and the proboscis monkey from Borneo leap to mind when we think about monkeys in Malaysia, the peninsula is not short of its own species as well.

In a list provided by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), primates in peninsular Malaysia include the ubiquitous macaques – the familiar kera or long-tailed macaque and beruk, which is the stump-tailed species.

Other monkeys are the lotong, which include the Silver Leaf Monkey as well as lotong ceneka (Banded Leaf Monkey) and lotong chengkong (Dusky Leaf Monkey).

Forests in this part of the country are also the natural habitat for the Greater Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang), locally called the kongkang, that has been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) ‘Vulnerable’ Red List since 2008.

The number of lorises, unfortunately, has been on the decline due to issues such as pet-trading and extensive habitat loss, despite the fact that it is classed under Schedule II in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Endau Rompin National Park wildlife researcher Adlil Ikram Shaharuddin, who specialises in biodiversity and conservation, said that in the illegal pet trade, lorises often have their teeth pulled out by traders to avoid being bitten.

“This usually leads to infection and loss of appetite, resulting in the animal’s death,” Adlil said.

Reintroducing such maimed primates, which are slow-moving and have a lower metabolic rate than mammals of equivalent size, to the wild, especially those rescued from the illegal pet trade, has been difficult, said Adlil.

Swinging acrobats

For the more outdoorsy types, the characteristic ‘hoo-hoo’ calls of the siamang, one of three gibbon species in peninsular Malaysia, in various pitches and volumes would be familiar, especially in the forests near Gombak or in Pahang.

Swinging from branch to branch as the primary means of travel, the gibbons are the siamang (characterised by an inflatable gular sac around the throat); the agile or black-handed gibbon; and lar or white-handed gibbon (ungka hitam and ungka putih).

Two of the siamang’s toes are joined by a thin membrane, hence the term “syndactylus” in its scientific name.

This ape is also under threat from the illegal pet trade and habitat loss.

“Poachers looking to take infants for the wildlife trade will end up wiping out the whole family of ape.

“This contributes to the loss of numbers, as well as the slow maturation of the siamang, which takes about eight years to become an adult,” said Adlil

Universiti Sains Malaysia Biological Sciences School senior lecturer and primatologist Dr Nadine Ruppert said all five of Malaysia’s gibbon species (including two from Sabah and Sarawak – the East Borneo Grey Gibbon and Abbott’s Gray Gibbon) are listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

“Studies on population sizes have been done in the past, but as far as I know, there are no current assessments.

“Data for the peninsula from the 1980s suggested there were 29,000 individual siamang, 46,000 Lar gibbons and 4,000 agile gibbons,” said Dr Ruppert, quoting Primate Conservation, edited by the late Prince Rainier III of Monaco.

Dr Ruppert suggested that the scarcity of recent research data was due to the inaccessibility of the gibbon habitats.

“Siamang prefer mountain ranges, their stealthy and shy behaviour high up in the canopy makes observation difficult and there is also probably a general lack of interest by researchers in the past,” she explained, pointing out that most studies on gibbons were actually done in other countries with or by Western researchers.

One issue with gibbons, similar to the slow loris, is their popularity in the exotic pet and wildlife trade, despite all five being listed as Schedule II (Totally Protected) wildlife in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

“Due to their friendly, non-aggressive nature, people think they make cute pets.

“The fact is, primates make very poor pets. Because they are so intelligent, they suffer tremendous psychological stress, and their health is damaged when taken away from their mother, their social group and natural habitat, and fed with the wrong diet,” Dr Ruppert said.

Many gibbons become mentally and physically ill, and die in captivity if not cared for in a species-appropriate manner, meaning, big natural enclosures with plenty of opportunities to move, forage, play and interact with mates.

The black-furred agile gibbon can only be found in the north of the peninsula, and usually associates in a family group of two to six individuals, comprising the male, female and offspring.

The Lar gibbon ranges throughout peninsular Malaysia and plays an important role as a keystone species.

Largely fruit-eating, the white-handed gibbon also plays a role in seed dispersal and the growth of new trees and forest cover.

Seeds of conflict

While wildlife is generally in trouble due to the loss of habitat as human development closes in, this in turn has pushed up the number of human-primate conflicts.

According to Perhilitan, long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) or kera are the species involved in the most human-wildlife conflicts.

Statistics provided from 2010 till 2014 show 21,197 complaints of harassment by macaques received by Perhilitan with Selangor generating the most (6,086 complaints) followed by Johor (3,351 complaints) and Kedah (2,155 complaints).

Most of these incidences take place around destruction of crops and property.

The reported cases included intimidation and injury, while the last monkey-related death was recorded in 2010.

Currently, the wild macaque population in peninsular Malaysia, based on a 2013 population study, is estimated at around 450,000.

As one of the most widespread primate species in Malaysia, long-tailed macaques have adapted to various environments and are tolerant of various altitudes, from sea level to 2km above sea level.

In mid-2013, the number of macaques being culled was estimated to reach more than 100,000 and this provoked an outcry from animal lovers and researchers.

Perhilitan had culled nearly 90,000 monkeys in 2011, and almost 10,000 more the next year.

According to Perhilitan Biodiversity Conservation Division director Dr Pazil Abdul Patah, more and more macaques were entering human-inhabited areas primarily because of the loss of their original forest habitats.

“Aside from building homes and farms close to the treeline and the original habitat area, you also have members of the public who feed the macaques, which changes their behaviour,” said Dr Pazil.

Where previously the monkeys would forage in their natural habitat, they now would come to depend on humans for food, and if they are not fed, Dr Pazil said, they would start breaking into human areas to search for nutrition.

“We have taken steps to try and reduce macaque-human conflict,” Dr Pazil explained, saying that these steps included “shoot-to-scare” tactics, with the aim of frightening the macaque population into moving to another area.

Sterilisation programmes have also taken place in select places while educational talks to human populations co-existing with macaques are held to drive home the message of keeping the area clean and cautioning against feeding the monkeys.

“Shooting the monkey is a very last resort move done when the monkey injures or threatens the lives of people,” said Dr Pazil.

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Malaysia: Dengue outbreak nationwide shows signs of abating

AUDREY DERMAWAN New Straits Times 18 Feb 16;

GEORGE TOWN: Malaysia’s dengue outbreak has shown improvement with the number of cases dropping.

There were 2,500 dengue cases last week compared with 3,500 the week before.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya attributed the improvement in the situation to the current weather.

"The Aedes mosquito breeding grounds may have dried off due to the hot spell," he told reporters during a Chinese New Year do at the Penang Hospital here today.

Dr Hilmi also commended Perak for its aggressive efforts in combating the dengue menace. "The number of dengue cases have reduced significantly in the state.

"We hope that all states will continue to take steps to combat the dengue menace once and for all," he added.

Kedah records a drop in dengue cases
MASRIWANIE MUHAMADING New Straits Times 19 Feb 16;

ALOR STAR: The reported number of dengue fever cases in Kedah shows a decrease to only 10 cases on the sixth week (from Feb 7 to 13) compared to 31 cases in the previous week (Jan 31 to Feb 6).

According to state Health Department director Datuk Dr Norhizan Ismail said in a statement the total number of dengue fever cases reported in the state since January 1 up to February 13 also shows a decrease of about nine percent compared to the corresponding period last year.

"A total of 141 number of dengue cases reported so far in the state since January 1 up to February 13, compared to 155 cases in the corresponding period last year.

"There were also no active outbreak localities identified or cases of death reported so far," he said.

Dr Norhizan also revealed that within the same period, three districts in the state show an increase of reported dengue cases while another 10 districts show a decrease; Baling with 31 cases compared to 13 cases last year, Kuala Muda with 55 cases compared to 28 cases last year, Pendang with four cases compared to two cases last year, Kulim with 17 cases compared to 35 cases last year, Langkawi with no cases reported compared to one case last year, Kubang Pasu with nine cases from 14 cases last year, Kota Setar with 20 cases from 32 cases last year, Padang Terap with only one cases from 10 cases last year, Yan with 84 cases compared to 13 last year, Sik with no cases reported compared to four cases last year, and Bandar Baharu with only two cases from three cases last year.

He added that the department has carried out various prevention and control programmes as an effort to combat the outbreak, including conducting checks to a total of 35,560 premises, conducting fogging at 44,796 premises and placing abate in 18,244 premises.

"A total of 296 compounds of about RM148,000 and 52 notices were also issued under the Destruction of Disease Bearing Insects Act 1975," he said.

He also urged the public to be concern on the dengue outbreak and to immediately get treatment should one experience any dengue symptoms.

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Malaysia: Harsher punishment mulled for open burning

The Star 19 Feb 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Heavier penalties for open burning are being considered by the Government, says Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said the current compound of RM2,000 was “too small” a deterrent for offenders.

“Anyone who gets caught for committing open burning is fined RM2,000. For companies whose income is millions of ringgit, that RM2,000 is merely ‘pocket money’.

“Someone who is caught for domestic burning in the villages or behind their house probably will get a small compound, but those who commit large-scale open burning at plantations should be pena­lised a lot more,” said Dr Wan Junaidi at a press conference here yesterday.

Speaking to reporters after chairing a meeting with the national committee on haze at his ministry here, he said while the haze situation in the country was caused by fires in Indonesia, open burning in Malaysia made the situation worse.

Dr Wan Junaidi said a committee had been set up to determine the losses caused by the haze last year.

“This committee will translate the losses into ‘dollars and cents’ and will help ascertain how much we lost during the haze season,” he said.

The ministry in a statement said some four million students were affected when 7,646 schools were shut down during the haze.

Tourist arrivals to Malaysia also dropped by 4.4% in August last year, and 7.7% in September.

“The fishing industry also suffered losses as fishermen were unable to go out to sea due to the poor visibility.

“This is the kind of damage caused by the haze and we want to find out how much it cost,” said Dr Wan Junaidi, adding that the study would be completed in about three months.

Environment Department instructed to review open burning penalty regulations
AZURA ABAS AND FAZLEENA AZIZ New Straits Times 18 Feb 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The Natural Resources and Environment Minister has instructed the Environment Department to review its open burning penalty regulations.

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the current blanket RM2,000 compound did not have the deterrence effect of stopping open burning.

"Now if you are big companies earning big profits, the RM2,000 compound is just pocket change for them and they can just use their petty cash to pay it," he told reporters after chairing the National Haze Committee meeting today which lasted for more than two hours.

Wan Junaidi said the compound amount should reflect the seriousness of the offence and should vary depending on whether it was done by an individual or a company.

The current compound of RM2,000 might only be appropriate for domestic open burning, he added.

Wan Junaidi also said today's meeting had approved the set up of two new sub-committees that were respectively tasked with studying the economic losses incurred by various sectors due to the haze as well as the standard operating procedures for haze.

Malaysia will be using two tools to measures particles at 2.5 micron or PM2.5 and read fine particles of less than 10 microns (PM10) for the Air Pollutant Index next year.

The sub committees are expected to complete their tasks in two months, and table it at the National Haze Committee meeting before it is brought to the Cabinet for approval, Wan Junaidi said.

“The SOP on haze will include when to do cloud seeding as well as the issuance of unhealthy level notices and health advisories.

“On the economic losses, we anticipate the study will take a bit longer but this is needed as plantation, agriculture, construction and tourism sectors have all suffered during the haze situation.

"So we need to compile the details and report to manage the haze situation as well as its outcomes,” he said, adding that the national committee was scheduled to meet three months to go through the finding from both committees.

Government Mulls Raising Compound Fine For Open Burning
Bernama 18 Feb 16;

PUTRAJAYA, Feb 18 (Bernama) -- The government mulls raising the compound fine imposed on those who committed open burning according to the scale of the activity in a bid to prevent the haze situation in the country from becoming rampant and serious.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said, right now, the compound fine for open burning was fixed at RM2,000 and it seemed inappropriate compared to the scale of the open burning reported.

As such, he ordered the Department of Environment to conduct a detailed study on the matter and to look into more suitable penalties.

He said in the case involving big companies with large profits, Wan Junaidi said it was only right that the compound fine imposed on them be higher than those imposed on individuals committing domestic open burning.

"So, this study is necessary. Although the haze is usually caused by fire in neighbouring country, legal action must be taken to ensure the situation in the country is not made worse," he said after chairing the National Haze Committee meeting here Thursday.

Meanwhile, Wan Junaidi said the meeting had decided to set up a committee to conduct a detailed study on the use of the technology on the measurement of the Air Pollutant Index (API), which often caused confusion among government agencies and the public.

He said the standardisation of the haze action plan encompassed the cloud seeding process, advisory on reducing outside activity and directive to close schools and institutions of higher learning.

"The standardisation of the haze action plan will help government agencies to issue accurate information to the public on measures to be taken during haze," he said.

The minister also announced the setting up of another committee to evaluate the losses suffered by various quarters when haze hit the country last year.

He said committee was expected to submit its report to the National Haze Committee in three months time before it was tabled to the Cabinet.


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Malaysia: Local and foreign visitors alike travel to Taiping village to watch fireflies

The Star 19 Feb 16;

TAIPING: Kampung Dew in Taiping may not appear any different from other villages in Perak.

However, the presence of thousands of fireflies creating a nature’s light show at night makes the place worth visiting.

Local and foreign visitors alike travel to the village located about 100km from Ipoh just to see these insects up close.

Fireflies (scientific name Pteroptyx tener) are special as the lower part of their abdomen emits a green light that flashes about three times per second.

When the flashes of the insects are synchronised, they create an enchanting light show at night.

Male fireflies emit a brighter glow than the females. Fireflies have a lifespan of only six to seven months.

Fireflies inhabit the berembang tree (Sonneratia caselaris), feeding off the tree’s sap.

The mesmerising display of lights is best experienced from 7.30pm until late night, except when it is raining. The fireflies prove to be quite tame when visitors try to catch them.

Kampung Dew Firefly Eco-Tourism Association secretary Shukor Ishak said the jetty that began operating in 2000 has received not only locals but also tourists from Taiwan, China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Europe.

Last year, a total of 12,000 tourists came to the village.

“There are usually more visitors on weekends. There was a time we had some 1,800 visitors who came to see fireflies within a month,” he added.

Nineteen-year-old Henna Savenias from Finland said she has seen fireflies before in other countries but those in Malaysia were smaller and shone brighter.

“They are different and very beautiful. I’m excited to see the fireflies, it’s truly an exciting ­experience,” she said. — Bernama

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Indonesia: Riau gears up for dry season in late May

Govt, disaster agencies have started efforts to prevent forest fires by keeping peatlands wet
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Feb 16;

The Indonesian province of Riau has made an early start to prepare for the next dry season, expected to begin in late May, by preventing forest and land fires.

Riau is just across the Strait of Malacca from Singapore and, earlier this week, the eastern part of the province recorded two hot spots - one in Dumai and another in the Meranti islands. The authorities quickly put out the fires, said Mr Sugarin, head of the meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru, Riau's capital.

"The provincial government, police, disaster agency and military here have started doing canal blocking in a bid to keep our peatlands wet," Mr Sugarin told The Straits Times over the telephone from Pekanbaru yesterday.

Burning peatlands, large areas of which have been cleared and drained for agriculture, caused vast clouds of choking smoke during last year's haze episode. The Indonesian government is now working on efforts to block up canals and flood dried-out peatlands.

The eastern part of Riau, which includes Bengkalis, Meranti islands and Dumai, has had drier weather than the rest of the province and a higher alert has been issued for the area, Mr Sugarin added.

Indonesia has suffered haze episodes in most years since the major 1997 to 1998 fires. The blazes are mostly caused by farmers and companies clearing land by illegal slash-and-burn techniques to save costs. Last year's haze, which reached its peak in October and was fuelled by severe drought, sent air pollution indexes to record levels across large parts of Kalimantan, Sumatra, Singapore and Malaysia.

The haze left thousands of people ill and cost Indonesia billions of dollars in firefighting, health and transport disruption costs. The Indonesian government has pledged to get tough on firms that burn land to make way for replanting.

On Jan 18, President Joko Widodo vowed to sack local military and police chiefs who are unable to control the spread of fires in their provinces, to help ensure Indonesia will not see a repeat of last year's haze crisis.

Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace at the time, he said he expected all levels of the military and police hierarchy in affected regions to get involved in efforts to contain fires.

Local military and police chiefs who manage to tackle the problem would be promoted, he said.

Last December, the government suspended the business licences of 16 companies, while three others saw their licences revoked for illegal land burning.

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U.S. environmental groups spar over Pacific trade deal's shark protections

David Lawder Reuters 18 Feb 16;

MONTEREY, Calif. Two influential environmental organizations squared off on Wednesday over protection for sharks in a new Pacific trade pact after the top U.S. trade official touted the pact's environmental benefits.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium endorsed provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aimed at deterring the hunting of sharks for their fins, while the Sierra Club labeled the pact a "shark-killing trade deal".

On visit to the aquarium, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the deal "delivers unprecedented and fully enforceable environmental protections," including those for oceans and marine life.

But his remarks drew a quick rebuke from the Sierra Club.

"The TPP would actually pose serious threats to one of our ocean's greatest treasures, sharks," said Ilaina Solomon, the Sierra Club's responsible trade program director, in a statement.

"The TPP not only fails to meaningfully address the problem of shark fin trading, but it could actually lead to the slaughter of more sharks," she said.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, which oversees a large marine sanctuary and carries out extensive oceanographic research, believes that if implemented properly, the deal would improve protections for sharks, said Margaret Spring, the facility's vice president for conservation and science.

"We are encouraged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership sets a new bar for ocean conservation measures in a trade agreement by including specific provisions to encourage sustainable fisheries management, fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, protect sharks and other key marine species, and eliminate harmful fishing subsidies," Spring said.

The agreement requires each of the 12 TPP countries, including Vietnam and Malaysia, to promote and enforce the long-term conservation of sharks, marine turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals.

However, the Sierra Club, a longtime opponent of the trade deal, argues that the pact contains loopholes that will allow continued finning of sharks by member countries. It also says that the agreement will cut duties on shark fin products in Vietnam and Malaysia, which will increase demand by lowering prices.

Congress must approve the trade deal for it to be implemented, but it remains unclear whether a vote will be scheduled this year.

(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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El Niño has passed peak strength but impacts will continue, UN warns

Current climate event is still strong but it is too early to say whether it will be most powerful on record, says World Meteorological Organisation
Adam Vaughan and John Vidal The Guardian 18 Feb 16;

The El Niño that caused record temperatures, drought and floods over the last year has passed its peak strength but will continue to have humanitarian impacts for months to come, the UN has said.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the event, which plays havoc with weather systems around the world, was still strong and its impacts on communities in southern Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central America were becoming increasingly apparent.

El Niño is a global climate phenomenon that occurs every few years when a huge warm patch of water forms in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, affecting rainfall from the the western US and South America to Africa, India, Indonesia, and Australia. The UN World Food programme warned earlier this week that 100 million people were facing food and water shortages as a result of the El Niño.

The WMO said that although the current episode was closely comparable in strength with the record event of 1997-98, it was too early to say whether the 2015-16 El Niño was the strongest ever. The agency’s confirmation that the peak has passed follows similar recent announcements by national science agencies.

The WMO’s new secretary general, Petteri Taalas, said: “In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline. But we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come.”

He added: “Parts of South America and east Africa are still recovering from torrential rains and flooding. The economic and human toll from drought - which by its nature is a slowly developing disaster - is becoming increasingly apparent in southern and the Horn of Africa, Central America and a number of other regions.”

In a joint statement, the UN’s World Food programme, the European commission, the US government’s Famine Early Warning System and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned on Thursday that staple food harvests across much of southern Africa would be badly hit throughout 2016.

“Much of southern Africa has experienced significant delays in planting and very poor conditions for early crop development and pasture regrowth. In many areas, planting has not been possible due to 30 to 50-day delays in the onset of rains and there has been widespread crop failure,” said the agencies.

South Africa, the breadbasket of the region on which many southern African countries depend for food imports in times of drought, this week issued a preliminary forecast of maize production for the coming harvest of 7.4 million tonnes, a drop of 25% from the already poor production levels of last season and 36% below the five-year average.

“Seasonal [weather] forecasts are predicting a continuation of below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures across most of the region for the remainder of the growing season. The combination of a poor 2014-15 season, an extremely dry early season (October to December) and forecasts for continuing hot and drier-than-average conditions through mid-2016, suggest a scenario of extensive, regional-scale crop failure”, said the FAO.

El Niño has played a key part, along with climate change, in driving global temperatures to record levels in 2015 and January 2016. The WMO said the current episode would likely fade away during the second quarter of 2016.

El Niño passes its peak while La Niña is possible this year
Matt McGrath BBC 19 Feb 16;

The El Niño weather phenomenon has reached its peak according to scientists and is set to decline over the next few months.

Researchers say there is a 50:50 chance that it will be replaced by a La Niña event before the end of this summer.

La Niña which involves a cooling of the Pacific Ocean, usually brings wetter conditions to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

These events can typically last twice as long as an El Niño.

Warmest January on record

While the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reports that the El Niño event has reached its apex, it is still having a significant influence on the global climate.

In combination with human induced warming, global temperatures in January were the hottest for the month since records began in 1880. The data also showed the biggest divergence yet seen from the long term record.

"In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline. But we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come," said Petteri Taalas from the WMO.

"Parts of South America and East Africa are still recovering from torrential rains and flooding. The economic and human toll from drought - which by its nature is a slowly developing disaster - is becoming increasingly apparent in southern and the Horn of Africa, central America and a number of other regions," he said.

While the El Niño did bring some relief to drought-hit California, there have been concerns that it has tapered off in recent weeks.
But in the wake of El Niño, experts believe there is a good chance that a La Niña will arrive later this year .

"Most models indicate that El Niño will weaken, with a transition to neutral during the late spring or early summer 2016," according to the US Climate Prediction Centre.

"Thereafter, the chance of La Niña conditions increases into the autumn," they concluded.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there is a 50% chance of a La Niña this summer. They say that there is an 80% chance of it happening by the end of this year.

Not every weather centre is on the same page when it comes to predicting the appearance of the event that's also termed El Viejo (the old one) or the Anti-El Niño .

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology says that based on 26 El Niño events since 1900, around half have been followed by a neutral year while 40% have been followed by La Niña. They argue that international climate models right now suggest that there won't be a follow-on La Niña this year.

If forecaster are a little uncertain of the arrive of a La Niña, they are all remaining tight-lipped on the more important question of how powerful it is likely to be.

La Niña often improves fishing conditions in the Pacific Ocean off South America, thanks to the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters.
It is also associated with heavier monsoons in South-East Asia, but it has also caused significant flooding in Australia in the recent past.

Another outstanding question is the impact of climate change on La Niña. A study last year suggested that extreme events were much more likely in a warming world.

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