Best of our wild blogs: 27 Feb 16

Rail Corridor Roving Exhibitions & Community Workshops
The Long and Winding Road

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Sand wars: Singapore's growth comes at the environmental expense of its neighbours

Lindsay Murdoch Sydney Morning Herald 26 Feb 16;

Phnom Penh: Just two years ago a small sandbar could be seen jutting out of the narrow straits separating Singapore and Malaysia's Johor.
Then the barges came, disgorging tonnes of sand, the beginning of a $60 billion, 20-year Malaysian development of four man-made islands designed for 700,000 residents and 25,000 workers, called Forest City.

Singapore's leaders were not happy to see the rapidly expanding mound moving ever closer to its shores, despite the fact that their own city-state is one of the world's largest importers of sand for land reclamation.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong requested that the Malaysian government order the developers to halt the work, even though most of the sand was coming from a shoal in Malaysia's waters, pending the resolution of sovereignty and environmental issues.

Singapore, already more than 22 per cent bigger in land size than it was as a British colonial backwater in the 1950s, is meanwhile pushing ahead with plans to import titanic amounts of sand to artificially expand its territory by 6200 hectares by 2030, prompting fears of environmental disaster on a swathe of tropical islands.

In a region with ubiquitous white sand beaches, entire islands and coastlines are disappearing, and sovereign borders shifting, while urban developments are emerging where there was once just water.

Most of Singapore's neighbours have bans on exporting sand but they have opened up a thriving smuggling trade.

Spanish environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson says he is willing to go to jail in Cambodia to stand up against indiscriminate and illegal sand dredging that environmental reports show has caused massive damage to coastal areas of the south-western Cambodian province of Koh Kong.

"They are stealing other people's sand, which is causing widespread social and environmental damage," he says. "The Cambodian people see no economic benefit from this practice, only devastation and misery."

Environmentalists estimate that more than 500 million tonnes of sand has been removed from Koh Kong's estuaries to Singapore over the past seven years, decimating a pristine mangrove eco-system and small village fishing communities.

Hundreds of dredging cranes have scooped sand from estuaries in remote areas protected by allegedly corrupt navy and police while government ministries responsible for the mining turned a blind eye, activists say.

There are now few fish or crabs and the fishermen have lost their livelihoods. Thefishing families receive no royalties.

Years after the dredging began Cambodia's Ministry of Mines and Energy announced this month that it would soon release details of an environmental impact study of the area.

Where hundreds of millions of dollars being paid for the sand goes is publicly unknown, despite demands by Cambodia's opposition MPs to reveal it.

The sand is hauled by smaller ships to huge mother ships anchored further out to sea.

Most of it is believed to end in the waters around Singapore, which keeps details of its sand sourcing confidential and considers the issue to be a matter of national security.

Protests by Gonzalez-Davidson's small non-government organisation Mother Nature have upset powerful vested interests in Cambodia, who are allegedly linked to syndicates that have been allowed to dredge Koh Kong's estuaries, despite a supposed national ban on the trade.

Three of Mother Nature's activists have been held in jail since last August on charges that they threatened the miners, an allegation they strenuously deny.

In February last year, after having lived in Cambodia for 13 years, Gonzalez-Davidson was denied a visa extension and thrown out of the country.

He has now been charged in absentia along with two monks with the crime of "threatening to commit destruction followed by an order," which carries a possible two-year jail sentence.

Gonzalez-Davidson is demanding that Cambodia grant him a visa so that he can stand alongside the other activists in court to defend the charges, bringing the world's attention to sand mining.

"I am concentrating all my efforts on ensuring that my fundamental rights will be respected in regards to these charges and the upcoming trial," he said.

"This includes the right to be present, physically in court proceedings, so that I can defend myself, as well as the other accused, against these fabricated and baseless charges."

Mother Nature last month filed a complaint with a Koh Kong court accusing employees of a sand dredging company of briefly detaining seven of their activists during a boat trip.

The Cambodia Daily cited Commerce Ministry records showing the company is partially owned by two daughters of Cambodia's strongman prime minister, Hun Sen.

Hun Sen's regime announced a ban on sand dredging in 2009 after 1500 fishermen filed a joint complaint.

But the ban was only for river sand and not the sea, and never disrupted the mining at Koh Kong.

Hun Sen recently told Cambodia's parliament that the mining is needed to facilitate navigation, reduce flooding and decrease river bank collapses.

But Gonzalez-Davidson said "All the experts we asked said that this makes no sense."

The world's legal trade in sand is worth an estimated $US70 billion a year and involves at least 15 billion tonnes with the illegal trade worth billions more.

Battles among sand mafias in India have killed hundreds of people. Gangsters have stolen beaches in numerous countries.

Dozens of Malaysian officials were charged in 2010 with accepting bribes and sexual favours in exchange for allowing sand to be smuggled into Singapore, where land expansion is seen as crucial to the city state's economic and social future.

Singapore's hills were decades ago carved out and dumped into the sea to create more land, and the state's hunger for sand has become a regional sore point.

Malaysia banned sand exports to Singapore as early as 1997, Indonesia imposed a similar ban after several of its Riau islands had vanished and Vietnam suspended dredging in 2009.

The principal source of Singapore's sand in recent years has been Myanmar, the Philippines and Cambodia. The area of land Singapore has taken from the sea is dwarfed by sand reclamation in countries like Japan, Dubai and China.

But, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, Singapore is by far the largest importer of sand worldwide and, per person, the world's biggest user.

Government policy stipulates that care for the environment is a core value and environmentalists agree the state has advanced policies for environmental sustainability.

But the government contracts private companies to import the sand.

Oliver Ching, a diplomat in Singapore's embassy in Phnom Penh, told activists in a letter last month that the "import of Cambodian sand to Singapore is done on a commercial basis … the Singapore government is not involved in these commercial transactions".

Gonzalez-Davidson has called for a moratorium on sand dredging in Cambodia to allow for independent scientific studies into the social and environmental impacts of sand mining.

"Fingers should be pointed at who is buying and using this sand," he said.

"Just like Singapore is unhappy at Indonesian forest fires, we need to tell them that Cambodia is also not happy with seeing how Singapore is directly responsible for the destruction of one of our most precious assets."

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A subway tunnel under Singapore's rainforest? No way, say activists

PAIGE LIM Reuters 26 Feb 16;

A plan to build a subway tunnel under Singapore's largest patch of primary rainforest has drawn sharp protests from environmental groups and activists who say it could irreversibly damage the habitats of hundreds of plant and animal species.

They are appealing to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to re-route the 50 kms (31 mile) Cross Island Line around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near the MacRitchie Reservoir, rather than through it.

The city-state is spending billions of dollars to upgrade its subway system to cope with a rising population in one of the most densely populated countries, which penalizes car ownership through hefty taxes.

But the LTA's plan is not going down well with nature-lovers, which are organizing guided walks around the reserve, exhibitions and talks, and producing music videos to lobby for the route to be changed. (

An online petition supporting the re-routing of the line away from the nature reserve has received over 7,790 signatures.

"A lot of our forests have already been lost to development and we can't afford to lose much more of them because there's so little left," said Sankar Ananthanarayanan, co-founder of the Herpetological Society and a life-sciences university student.

A network of freshwater streams in the reserve supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna, including more than 1,000 species of flowering plants and over 500 species of animals.

LTA Chief Executive Chew Men Leong said in a letter in the Straits Times Forum page this week that taking the new line around the reserve would cost an extra S$2 billion ($1.4 billion) to build. Industry experts estimate the overall cost could amount could be as much as S$40.7 billion.

He said the government was studying both options for the underground route but had not yet made a decision.

(Editing by Anshuman Daga and Michael Perry)

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

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Activists concerned over more damage to Central Catchment Nature Reserve

Stefanus Ian Yahoo News 26 Feb 16;

On top of having 16 boreholes worth of damage, the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) will likely have a 1.8 kilometre stretch of damage during the site investigation process for the Cross Island MRT Line, nature activists said.

During a public discussion on Thursday (25 February) at the SingJazz club, former Senior Arborist of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Lahiru Wijedasa, explained that the current Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report does not fully represent the potential damage of having the Cross Island Line cut through the CCNR.

“The problem with this report is that they haven’t engaged an arborist, and it’s purely an EIA based on what species are (at MacRitchie) and not actually looking at the (boring) method that is going to be used,” Wijedasa told a forum of about 100 people.

Wijedasa said that the dirt tracks on MacRitchie are not accustomed to the heavy machinery that would be passing through these tracks to transport the boring equipment.

The boring equipment will require a steady supply of water during operation, and the usual weight of the vehicle used to transport the water is 2.4 tonnes. He explained that if each vehicle is carrying about a tonne of water, the total weight exerted on the dirt track will be about 3.4 tonnes.

As a result the whole stretch of track being used to carry the equipment and water into the sites will also be damaged.

“The outcome is that we are going to have more damage caused to the roots by the machines carrying the water in and out, so we are not looking at 16 boreholes worth of damage. We are looking at 1.8 kilometres stretch of damage of 3.4 tonnes six times a day for nine months,” said Wijedasa, who formerly oversaw the maintenance of the health of the trees in the Botanic Gardens.

“There is going to be significant root damage and the compaction is going to cause the trees to die.”


The 50 kilometre train line will connect commuters from Changi to Jurong Industrial Estate and is expected to open in 2030. But many nature activists are up in arms over plans for the line to cross the CCNR. The Nature Society has earlier suggested re-routing the MRT project along Lornie Road saying that it will extend the line by just two kilometres and extend traveling time by four minutes.

Nature Society council member Tony O'Dempsey said that the group has been presenting their own research to the LTA and made recommendations, which were positively received.

Some of the points raised was how the LTA agreed to not put a borehole within 30 metres of wetlands, and how the number of boreholes planned for the site investigation was significantly reduced following discussions.

“They listened to us and they took on the things that we were recommending and that is how I measure a successful interaction,” O’Dempsey said.

But he stressed that the harmful impact of having the soil survey through the CCNR cannot be ignored.

“The way to look at this is that you need to ask or we need to ask ourselves this question, ‘Is the impact negligible?’ The answer is no, the EIA report showing that the impact is moderate,” O’Dempsey said. “Therefore we must conclude that the impact is significant and needs to be considered, and needs to be factored into the equation.”

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

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Govt agencies may post environmental impact studies online in future

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 27 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — Following the unprecedented release online of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) last week, government agencies will consider doing the same for future reports, especially if there is significant public interest involved.

The study being done for Mandai, ahead of its development into a wildlife and nature heritage space, will also be posted online “when ready” by Temasek-owned Mandai Safari Park Holdings (MSPH), alongside other plans for the project.

In the wake of the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) online release of the Cross Island Line Phase One EIA on Feb 19, TODAY asked MSPH and various government agencies if future EIA reports would also make their way into cyberspace.

MSPH has been engaging nature lovers and other stakeholders in its environmental study, which it previously said it expects to share by the second quarter of this year.

The goal is to ensure the rejuvenation of Mandai is accessible, sustainable and well-integrated with its surroundings, an MSPH spokesperson said.

As for government agencies, the practice has been to make physical copies of the EIAs available for public inspection by appointment. This is because EIA reports are technical documents that can be voluminous and may not be easily understandable or interesting to the layman, said the Ministry of National Development (MND).

“Agencies will consider making these reports more readily available online, especially where there is significant public interest involved, as was the case for the recent study on the Cross Island Line,” it added.

The Cross Island Line report, which was put up on Feb 19, had been accessed from about 2,300 unique IP addresses by Thursday (Feb 25), the LTA said.

Agencies that commission EIAs include the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Maritime and Port Authority.

Public inspection of EIAs allows stakeholders and members of the public to provide input and recommendations, beyond those who had been consulted earlier, said the MND.

Singapore does not have a law mandating that EIAs be conducted or made available to the public, although such studies have become more widespread in recent years. Easy public access to EIAs is important and Singapore should consider an EIA law, said environmental law and heritage experts.

“The principle behind the EIA is a simple one – ‘look before you leap!’ It is part of good governance, to have a process to carefully evaluate all possible impacts that may result from a proposed development project,” said Associate Professor Lye Lin Heng, director of the Asia-Pacific Center for Environmental Law at the National University of Singapore.

A good EIA policy should allow for public participation. “Governments often fear that allowing members of the public to respond slows down the development process. A well-drafted EIA law should give a reasonable timeframe and no more, for public response, so this fear of slowing down the development process is largely unfounded,” she added.

Environmental law expert Alan Tan Khee-Jin said posting EIAs online should be the default procedure going forward. “The result at the end of the process – whether in favour or against – can only enjoy more legitimacy by having undergone a robust, inclusive and transparent EIA deliberative process,” he said.

On issues involving the use of resources and public spaces, healthy engagement with the public is essential and strengthens the policy-making process, said Dr Kevin YL Tan, president of the International Commission on Monuments and Sites in Singapore.

EIAs and heritage impact assessments address the impact of development on things that exist, that have value, he said. “They should not be at the behest of the individual government agencies but should be compulsory in all developers’ plans, in the interest of good governance and accountability, more than anything else.”

According to a 2002 academic paper, Singapore has conducted environmental assessments since the 1980s “but generally in a random and ad hoc manner”. It was suggested that certain environmental changes, such as the separation of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from the central water catchment area by the Bukit Timah Expressway, could have been avoided had EIA laws been enacted, wrote academics Clive Briffett and Jamie Mackee.

Last year in Parliament, then-Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said major development projects are required to undergo EIAs, especially when they are near to sensitive areas, such as nature reserves.

“As EIAs do take significant time and resources, we apply them to projects that may most adversely impact our protected natural spaces, and coastal and marine environments,” he said.

The Government takes EIA recommendations seriously and uses the studies to finalise plans and mitigate any development impact by modifying the scale or scope of works, Mr Lee added.

Assoc Prof Lye said the LTA’s engagement of nature experts and the online release of the Cross Island Line report are steps in the right direction, but believes EIAs should be required for all projects that could have negative impact on the environment – not only those that directly impact nature areas.

“In tiny Singapore, we should be even more careful about our land use. Indeed, there is also the argument that the Government holds all lands not in private ownership, but on trust for the people. Thus, the people should be consulted as the beneficiaries, as should be mandated in an EIA law,” she added.

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

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New S$2m facility on Pulau Ubin to educate public about the island

The Ubin Living Lab will provide groups with an outdoor classroom to learn about the island's history, nature and heritage, while supporting field researchers with scientific work.

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 27 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: A new 2.1-hectare facility for field studies, education, research and community outreach on Pulau Ubin opened on Saturday (Feb 27), providing groups with an outdoor classroom to learn about the island's history, nature and heritage, while supporting field researchers with scientific work.

Called the Ubin Living Lab, the S$2 million facility is located at the former Celestial Resort site on the southwestern tip of the island. At present, the site consists of two refurbished buildings to house laboratories, a gated outdoor campsite and a sheltered hall block.

Among the first groups to use the facility are students from ITE East and Republic Polytechnic, who will set up nesting boxes around the island for the Blue-throated Bee-eater and roosting boxes for bats.

It was first announced in November 2014 as one of the initiatives of the Ubin Project - a Government effort with the community aimed at protecting the island's natural environment, and preserving its rustic state. The idea was first mooted by members of the Friends of Ubin Network of volunteers, nature enthusiasts, education groups, island residents and other stakeholders.

Officiating the opening of the new lab was Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who described the lab as "an example of what the community and the Government can do together in partnership".

"With more of us using the Urban Living Lab and continually sharing suggestions and feedback, we will continue to enhance the programmes and facilities," said Mr Lee. "And when that happens, we can look forward to enhanced utilities and also pilot projects of sustainable technologies such as water treatment systems."

- CNA/kk

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Itching to discover new species

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Feb 16;

A collage of photographs taken by civil servant and amateur ant scientist Mark Wong. To capture these shots of ants, he put his iPhone on the eyepiece of a microscope. Based on past records, there are an estimated 169 to 175 species of ants in Singapore.

They may be less than 2mm long, but what they lack in size, they make up for in dexterity and ferocity.

Some ants from the genus Leptanilla are known to prey on centipedes up to 50 times larger than them.

They attack in groups, immobilising the centipede with multiple stings, before transporting their larvae to feed on the carcass. The larvae attach themselves to the centipede and suck the life out of it.

However, compared to other ant species that live above ground, little else is known about this elusive type of ants as they live and forage underground and are tiny.

However, an aspiring Singaporean ant researcher recently discovered - in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve - a species of ants from this genus that is new to science.

The species, Leptanilla hypodracos, was described by civil servant Mark Wong, 25, in a paper published in science journal ZooKeys last month. "In Latin, hypo means under, which reflects its underground habitat, and dracos means dragon, coined after its appearance and predatory nature," said Mr Wong, who said he finds ants, and the variety of species and unique behaviours "incredibly fascinating".

The Leptanilla hypodracos is slender and pale, almost golden.

It was found in July last year, in an underground trap that Mr Wong laid near MacRitchie Reservoir.

Out of the thousands of ants caught in the vial-like trap, there were only three ants of this species, said Mr Wong. "Leptanilla ants are rarely collected because they are restricted to soil in less disturbed habitats, are so tiny, and have small colonies of about a hundred individuals, as compared to the thousands in other species," said Mr Wong, who has a degree in forest science from the Australian National University.

Assistant Professor Benoit Guenard from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, with whom Mr Wong worked to identify the Leptanilla hypodracos, said the group of ants it belongs to is probably one of the oldest among all ants. "This does not mean that this particular species is very old, but that its ancestors, which shared some similar features, had been surviving for millions of years," said Prof Guenard.

Mr Wong discovered Leptanilla hypodracos while on a mission to determine the ant diversity of Singapore as part of a pet project. The ants may be tiny, but play a mammoth role in forest health, he pointed out. "Ants are vital to many ecosystems, but few people know about them and they have been poorly studied, especially locally, compared to other animals, such as mammals and birds.

"In the forests, ants aerate the soil when they dig tunnels underground. They also take in nutrients when they take food back to their nests, and are important seed dispersers."

Dr Wendy Wang, a post-doctoral research fellow who studies ants at the Evolutionary Biology Lab at the National University of Singapore, said that, based on past records, there are an estimated 169 to 175 species of ants in Singapore.

"Mark's discovery is just scraping the tip of the iceberg comprising hundreds of new species of ants that could potentially be discovered in Singapore. It is just that nobody has done a really comprehensive and large-scale sampling and identification of Singapore's ants.

"There are definitely more waiting to be discovered and described," said Dr Wang, who did her PhD on ant biodiversity in natural forests and oil palm.

Prof Guenard said knowing the diversity and roles of ants in Singapore is important in understanding ecosystems and how to protect them. "How can we protect what we don't know? Considering the current biodiversity crisis due to human activities, we should ensure that we can discover as many species as possible before they go extinct," said the entomologist.

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Critically endangered Sunda Pangolin found dead in Mandai after being hit by vehicle

Today Online 27 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — The carcass of a Sunda Pangolin, a “critically endangered” species according to the Singapore Red Data Book 2008, was found along a road in the Mandai area yesterday (Feb 25).

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum said on Facebook that it was alerted to the carcass by a Mr Benjamin Lee and Mr Raem Tan.

According to the museum, the pangolin was found with broken scales and bruises. Preliminary inspection indicated that vehicular impact was the cause of the pangolin’s death, the museum added.

The Sunda Pangolin or Malayan Pangolin (Manis Javanica) are a native species of South-east Asia, according to the National Parks Board (NParks) website. In Singapore, they are mainly distributed in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, but can also be found in forested areas in Bukit Batok, the Western Catchment Area, and on the islands of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

The NParks website added that Sunda Pangolins may sometimes wander into residential areas from nearby woods.

As the pangolins move slowly, they are also often injured or killed by vehicles when they stray off too far from the forested areas onto roads, NParks wrote.

Globally, pangolins are also poached for its meat and scales. Due to its low fecundity rate of only 1 to 2 offspring per year, the global pangolin population is depleting at a much faster rate than it can recover, NParks added.

The carcass found yesterday has been recovered by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for scientific study. The museum on Facebook also urged the public to contact them at when dead wildlife are spotted.

“Do not let them die in vain, as they are valuable for science,” the museum wrote.

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Malaysia: UKM don warns of prolonged dry spell in Sabah

RUBEN SARIO The Star 27 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is seeing rainfall in some parts while other areas are experiencing dry conditions associated with the El Nino phenomenon.

A persistent high pressure system over Siberia is said to be behind this and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Climatology and Oceanography Professor Dr Fredo­lin Tangang said it was causing strong winds and rainfall along the west coast and northern Sabah.

“However, east coast districts such as Tawau have experienced irregular rainfall since Jan 27, which has worsened since Feb 17 when dry conditions took over,” he said.

He said the impact of the Siberian high pressure system over Sabah would eventually wane in the coming weeks and then the people in the state would experience extremely dry and hot conditions.

“The weather fluctuations being experienced now are temporary,” he added.

While some areas such as the northern Kota Marudu experienced an entire day of rainfall on Thursday, dry conditions in Tawau for the past 10 days had resulted in a drop at the Tawau River – the main source of raw water for the district.

Sabah Water Department Tawau district engineer Bahrin Antonio said water production was reduced by half to 15 million litres per day as intake points at the Tawau River were unable to pump sufficient water.

Dr Fredolin warned that all signs were pointing to a prolonged dry spell in Sabah and northern Sarawak, similar to what had occurred in 1997 and 1998.

He said the forecast of the Apec Climate Centre in Busan, S. Korea, indicated more than 80% likelihood of rainfall below normal over this region in the next three months.

Dr Fredolin said the El Nino phenomenon resulted in a 3°C above average surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean.

“In comparison, a 5°C increase in the Pacific Ocean two decades ago resulted in widespread drought in Sabah, causing massive forest and bush fires as well as crop failures,” he added.

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Malaysia: Forest fire breaks out at Pulau Lalang

RAHMAT KHAIRULRIJAL New Straits Times 26 Feb 16;

LUMUT: A forest fire broke out at Pulau Lalang near here today, destroying 1.2 hectares of forest.

Perak State Park Corporation manager Iylia Ainuddin said the fire was spotted about 11.30am, prompting the corporation to seek help from Bagan Sungai Burung fishermen .

"We also sought help from the Fire and Rescue Department and marine police and they managed to control the fire at about 4pm.

"They had to use the water bombing technique to put out the fire as some of the affected areas are inaccessible by foot," she said when contacted today.

She said the corporation was relieved when firefighters managed to control the fire before it spread to nearby tourism facilities.

Iylia said preliminary investigation revealed that the dry and hot weather could have caused the fire.

"However, the authorities did not rule out the possibility that the fire was triggered by a cigarette butt thrown by a smoker," she said.

Located off Pulau Pangkor, Pulau Lalang is part of Pulau Sembilan state park and is a favourite spot among anglers.

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Malaysia: Patients moved to hospital's upper level as flash floods in Sarawak worsen

ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 27 Feb 16;

KUCHING: Patients on the ground floor of Sarawak General Hospital here had to be evacuated as ankle-deep floodwaters entered the medical facility.

A state Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said a team was deployed to the hospital to evacuate patients on the ground floor to the higher level.

“The relocation of patients went on smoothly without any untoward incidents,” he said adding that firefighters were helping hospital staff to clean the premise.

The flash floods here is expected to worsen as continuous rain is expected to shower several areas in Kuching and Samarahan until this afternoon.

Checks by the New Straits Times found that flash floods had inundated roads here, including Jalan Tun Openg, Jalan Batu Lintang, Jalan Padungan, Jalan Tabuan Dayak and the roads near the Sarawak General Hospital.

According to Kuching Zone Fire and Rescue Station chief Tiong Ling Hi Jalan Tabuan Dayak was among the worst affected by the downpour, with floodwaters about 1m.

“Our men and assets are on standby now and ready to be deployed if the situation worsens,” he said.

The Meteorology Department today has issued a heavy rain warning for the divisions of Samarahan, Serian and Kuching.

The department, on its website, said heavy rain was expected to persist in these divisions until early afternoon.

Airport spared, Police headquarters submerged
ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 27 Feb 16;

KUCHING: Those flying out of Kuching International Airport (KIA) have been advised to come early to avoid missing their flights as flash floods hit the city today.

Airport senior manager Mohd Nadzmi Hashim, however, said the situation was under control at KIA and it was not affected by the flash floods, which wreaked havoc in several parts of Kuching and Samarahan this morning.

“The airport is not affected by flash flood as we are on higher ground compared with the city.

“Nevertheless, passengers have been advised to come to the airport early to avoid missing their flights.” Heavy rain, which is expected to last until afternoon, submerged several main roads in the city.

The Sarawak General Hospital was also affected, with ankle-deep water on its ground level.

Even the Sarawak police headquarters was not spared from the wet spell, with several of its buildings at Jalan Badaruddin submerged.

Kuching flood update: Floodwaters recede from Sarawak hospital
ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 27 Feb 16;

KUCHING: It is business as usual at Sarawak General Hospital although several of its buildings were hit by flash floods earlier today.

Assistant State Minister for Public Health Datuk Dr Jerip Susil said the situation was under control at the hospital since water that had earlier entered the ground floor of its premises had started to recede. "No patients were evacuated since the flood situation is under control.

"The flash floods inundated the ground floor of one of the hospital buildings, which houses the children's ward.

"There was no untoward incidents and operations at the hospital proceeded as usual," said Dr Jerip when contacted today.

Checks showed the rain had stopped but several roads in the city were still inundated by water. State Fire and Rescue Department assistant director (operation) Farhan Sufyan Borhan said water in several parts of the city had begun to recede as of 11am today.

"We have deployed our men to flood sticken - areas to assist those stranded by the flash floods."

Sarawak capital underwater after overnight rain
Today Online 27 Feb 16;

KUCHING CITY — Heavy overnight rain, coupled with a 5.5m king tide which peaked at 7.30am, has left Kuching city, Sarawak, underwater.

Flood waters have reportedly entered the police headquarters at Jalan Badruddin, the Sarawak general hospital and even a hotel, and roads leading to the police headquarters and hospital are under a metre of water at certain stretches.

This is the first time the hospital has been hit in Sarawak's flood season and services on the ground floor, such as the pharmacy, have reportedly been moved to another floor.

Main roads like Jalan Tun Openg, Jalan Batu Lintang have turned into a river, forcing motorists to take diversions to reach their destinations.

Many city folk were unaware of the severity of the floods and early morning motorists were left stranded on roads.

The Fire and Rescue Services Department headquarters at Jalan Batu Lintang is also underwater.

Kpg Tabuan Dayak, a village about 3km from the city centre, was waist-deep in water and residents have been placed on alert for possible evacuation.

The Fire and Rescue Services Department reported the water level had begun to recede with the tide.

But if the rain does not subside, Kuching residents, especially on the western side of the city, and those living along Sungai Sarawak, are bracing for another flood when the king tide – the last of the month – sets in at 6.39pm today.

There are no reports yet on the situation in flood-prone outlying areas although the Civil Defence Department in the media WhatsApp chat group reported that there have been no evacuations so far. THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER

Floods wreak havoc in Sarawak
The Star 28 Feb 16;

KUCHING: Several hours of excessive rainfall caused flash floods in many parts of the city, inundating the Sarawak General Hospital, state police headquarters and other public buildings.

State Fire and Rescue assistant director of operations Farhan Sufyan Borhan said the department received 17 flood-related calls since the rain began at about 3am yesterday.

"We provided assistance to move patients to the first floor at the Sarawak General Hospital. We also helped to evacuate residents from Kampung Tabuan Dayak to a temporary relief centre," he said.

He also said areas such as Padang Merdeka, Batu Lintang, Satok, Taman Malihah and Tabuan were under at least a foot of water. Even the Batu Lintang fire station was not spared.

However, he added that the floods began subsiding at about 11am as the rain eased up.

State Public Health Assistant Minister Datuk Dr Jerip Susil said the car park and paediatrics block of the hospital were affected by the flash floods.

"I think it's because of the drainage along that area.

"There needs to be a major relook at our drainage system and how to control overflowing water," he said.

This is the third time Kuching has been hit by floods this month. A combination of heavy rain and high tides caused flooding during the first few days of Chinese New Year and again last weekend when nearly 8,000 people were evacuated.

According to state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) director Chok Moi Soon, over 300mm of rain fell in parts of Kuching yesterday morning while a few other stations recorded rainfall exceeding 200mm.

"Our drainage system could not cope, resulting in flash floods," he told a press conference, adding that the city's drainage was designed for an average of 150-180mm of rain.

Housing Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said the state government would call a meeting within the next two weeks to discuss a long-term solution to flash floods in the city.

He said the meeting would be attended by experts from DID and the Meteorological Department, local authorities and relevant agencies.

"We have identified possible reasons for this flash flood, including our drainage system. We are looking seriously into this.

"We will do some rectification to find a long-term solution," he said.

Wet weekend for Kuching as heavy downpour hits city
YU JI The Star 29 Feb 16;

KUCHING: For thousands of residents in Kuching, Padawan and Serian, it has been another tough weekend of floods and cleaning up.

For the third time this month, the state capital and surrounding areas experienced heavy floods.

On Saturday, they came without warning and created major havoc.

From midnight, it rained more than 300mm – Kuching’s drainage is designed for 150-180mm of rain, while the average rain day is 90mm.

The oldest parts of the city were worst affected by the sudden downpour. At Kai Joo Lane, the waters were waist-high.

Even the Sarawak General Hospital was flooded for the first time ever.

“Some stock at the pharmacy was submerged. We are assessing now. The affected drugs will be discarded,” said Assistant Public Health Minister Datuk Dr Jerip Susil in an interview yesterday.

“When the floods came on Satur­day morning, we shut down all the lifts except one, which was re­­served for emergencies and movement to the operating theatre.”

During the height of the floods, electricity to residential estates in­­clu­ding Tabuan Dayak was halted as a safety precaution.

Large sections of the inner city were in a mass clean-up, with small businesses like grocery stores not taking any chances.

“Because of past experiences, we told everyone, even before Chinese New Year, to be ready for the entire month of February,” said Datuk Wee Hong Seng, who headed the In­­dia Street pedestrian mall ma­­nagement committee.

He added that the council had begun designing new drainage for areas near the bus terminal at Jalan Masjid and Padang Merdeka, and would begin the tender process in April.

At 8am yesterday, the Fire and Rescue Department opened two relief shelters, accommodating 311 evacuees from Serian, which is about 60km from here.

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Malaysia: Turtle rehabilitation programme lured 22,000 visitors to Terengganu last year

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 27 Feb 16;

KEMAMAN: Over 22,000 local and overseas visitors flocked to Terengganu last year to get a better grasp of the turtle habitat in the east coast peninsula state.

Terengganu Fisheries Department’s management and resource preservation branch head Rusman Rusdy said that 400 of the visitors were foreigners, mainly from Europe, who went to the beach hatcheries.

“The large number of visitors is the result of our continuing educational and awareness programme at our turtle rehabilitation nurseries in the state.

“The local visitors were mainly varsity students carrying out research for their studies and those from non-governmental organisations,” he said.

Rusman added that last year nine volunteers from Japan took part in the turtle rehabilitation programme.

Also, there were 47 seasonal workers hired to retrieve and bury turtle eggs for hatching and take care of the habitat.

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Malaysia: WWF urges city hall to widen ban on polystyrene

The Star 27 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia hopes that city hall will continue its ban on using polystyrene at all official functions, and possibly expand the area of ban.

“We hope that for Earth Hour this year, the end to polystyrene usage can be extended throughout the city with the help of food vendors in Kota Kinabalu,” WWF-Malaysia executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said in a statement.

He said such actions were in line with the Local Agenda 21 from the United Nations action plan on sustainable deve­lopment.

It is a local government-led, community-wide and participatory effort to esta­blish a comprehensive action strategy for environment protection, economic prospe­rity and community well-being in the local jurisdiction or area.

Dr Dionysius said polystyrene or plastic bags, widely used especially in takeaways, was convenient but came at the cost of the environment.

“These items are not easily recycled thus often ending up in landfills or are carelessly discarded,” he said.

He added that these non-biodegradable items would quickly become an eyesore or worse still, clog up drains and waterways, which became breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other pests.

But that’s not the end of it.

“Polystyrene, due to its lightweight and buoyant nature, can also travel through drains and gutters.

“Eventually it reaches the ocean, perhaps even breaking down into smaller, non-biodegradable pieces that can be mistaken as food by marine and other wildlife and killing them,” Dr Dionysius added.

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Malaysia: Sky lanterns almost set wooden house ablaze

Compiled by ROYCE TAN, NG SI HOOI and R. ARAVINTHAN The Star 27 Feb 16;

A WOODEN house in Bukit Baru, Malacca almost caught fire when three traditional Chinese sky lantern fell on its rooftop, China Press reported.

The residents, who were gathering outside their houses to celebrate Chap Goh Meh, were shocked to see flames coming out from the lanterns, which are also known as kungming lanterns.

Several of them quickly took down the lanterns and put out the flames.

It was believed that the lanterns were put up by three families as their family names and wishes were on the lanterns.

Some people believe their dreams come true when they release their lanterns into the sky.

A resident slammed their actions, saying it would cause fires if the lanterns accidently dropped on flammable objects.

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Indonesia: Hot spots detected in Sumatra

The Jakarta Post 27 Feb 16;

JAKARTA: NASA satellites detected 47 hot spots across Sumatra on Friday despite a downpour over the past two days, Pekanbaru office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) announced.

The number increased from 45 hot spots detected on Thursday afternoon, said local BMKG official Slamet Riyadi.

Of the 47 hotspots, 16 were found in Aceh, 15 in Riau, 12 in North Sumatra and two each in Bengkulu and Lampung.

In Riau, nine hotspots were detected in Bengkalis district, two in Siak and two each in Pelalawan and Meranti Islands.

Last year, parts of the country suffered what many deemed the worst forest fires in the last 10 years. Forest fires have been an annual problem in Indonesia since the mid-1990s, but last year’s were the worst since 1997 when blazes spread across nearly 10 million hectares.

Last year’s fires caused an ecological disaster, health problems and economic losses — 2.1 million hectares of land was burned, 21 lives lost and more than half a million people suffered respiratory problems.

The World Bank has estimated that Indonesia’s economy lost US$16 billion due to the fires, more than double what was spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.

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Vietnam: Reserve marred by logging

Vietnam News 27 Feb 16;

DA NANG (VNS) — Illegal loggers have destroyed a vast area in the protected Nature Reserve in Son Tra peninsula since last year.

The illegal action was discovered and stopped by local administration, police, and rangers of Son Tra-Ngu Hanh Son Forest Protection Department.

A combined force of police and rangers were called to dismantle shelters in the forest yesterday morning, along with knives, bush hooks and kitchen tools.

The illegal loggers hail from Dai Loc district in Quang Nam Province. They were hired to clear the forest and paid VND180,000 (US$8) a day.

According to local authorities, 20 workers was hired to clear the forest area in an effort to build an ecotourism site in the protected Nature Reserve.

"It's a very serious violation. All clearing of land and trees in the protected forest is a criminal offence. The land owner intentionally destroyed forest for commercial purposes, instead of protecting the forest," said Nguyen Dieu, the director of the city's Natural Resources and Environment office.

"An estimated 5ha of protected forest were logged and cleared in the area. The location was illegally used to develop as a beach entertainment site with big investment," he speculated.

Dieu said his department will collaborate with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Forest Protection sub-department, and other relevant agencies in the city to determine the purpose of illegal violations in the protected forest.

The illegal loggers confessed to police that they had been clearing forest here for several weeks. But biologists said that the destruction started around last October.

Tran Huu Vy, director of the Centre for Conservation for Biodiversity also known as GreenViet, said that the flora system of the buffer zone of Son Tra Nature Reserve mainly provides food for 75 Red-Shanked Doucs (Pygathryx nemaeus), an animal listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The area also shelters Kim Cang (Similax Poilanei Gagnep), a plant listed in Viet Nam's Red Book, as well as various plants which langurs eat.

"We have yet to estimate the loss of biodiversity in the area. But illegal logging destroys the structure of the ecological system and negatively affects the existence and habitat of primates living in the Nature Reserve," Vy said, adding that Son Tra Nature Reserve is home to 300 Red-Shanked Doucs.

Vy said he suspected that the workers snared animals in the area by night. GreenViet volunteers found 150 traps over just a few days of forest field trips.

Vo Dinh Cong, Chairman of Tho Quang ward, said that area residents are responsible to protect their local forest area, for which the government pays them a fee. Since the area in question is part of the Son Tra Nature Reserve, logging, hunting and construction are illegal there.

Cong said local administration and police have been investigating who masterminded the illegal logging and land clearing for commercial purposes.

Last year, Son Tra-Ngu Hanh Son's Forest Protection Department prosecuted a criminal case involving the illegal killing of three Red-Shanked Doucs (Pygathryx nemaeus).

Son Tra Peninsula, which covers 4,439ha, is home to 985 varieties of plants and 378 animal species. The Peninsula sees around 10,000 visitors per month. — VNS

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