Best of our wild blogs: 3 Mar 16



19 Mar (Sat) morning: Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

The trash on the Pulau Serangoon (Coney Island) shore – revisited after nearly five years!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Awesome first Chek Jawa walk in 2016
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Should the line be crossed?
Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden


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Johor reservoir that serves as a major supply of water to Singapore still not half full: Amy Khor

Alexis Ong Straits Times 2 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE - Johor's Linggiu Reservoir, a major source of water for Singapore, is still not half full and the authorities are monitoring the situation, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor, on Wednesday.

On Jan 24, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said the reservoir's water level reached 49 per cent, from a historic low of 43 per cent in November 2015.

At the beginning of 2015, the water level was was about 80 per cent but dry weather has caused a steady depletion of water in Linggiu Reservoir over the last year.

Singapore relies on the reservoir for up to 60 per cent of its water needs.

Dr Khor said on Wednesday that the Government is encouraging people to be more aware of water wastage and switch to appliances and products, such as washing machines, that can save more water.

She was speaking at a water rationing exercise held at Bukit View Secondary School, organised by national water agency PUB to tie in with World Water Day on March 22.

For an hour on Wednesday morning, water supply to water coolers and toilets was cut off, and students washed their hands with water collected earlier in pails.

"Today, everybody can readily get clean water with the turn of the tap," Dr Khor said. "But we've also been witnessing really extreme weather patterns, which may affect this ready supply of water."

So, having water rationing exercises can help students to learn through personal experience what it means to have limited water resources and appreciate the value of water, she added.

According to PUB, water usage here has dipped from 151 litres per person per day in 2013 to 150 litres in 2014.

The agency aims to bring this down to 147 litres per person per day in 2020, and 140 litres in 2030.

Bukit View Secondary School is the first of five schools to conduct water rationing exercises in March. The other schools are Peirce Secondary School, Woodgrove Secondary School, Bendemeer Primary School and Elias Park Primary School.


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Malaysia: Johor dams critically low

ZAZALI MUSA The Star 3 Mar 16;

JOHOR BARU: Water levels at the Sungai Layang and Sungai Lebam dams remain critically low even after the transfer of additional raw water from Sungai Tiram and Sungai Papan respectively.

SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd corporate communications head Jamaluddin Jamil said the pumping of raw water from the two rivers into both dams began at the end of last year.

The critical level at the Sungai Layang dam is 23.50m, and 12.27m at the Sungai Lebam dam.

“The raw water transfer is only a temporary measure to boost water levels as we are still depending on rain water to fill the two dams,” said Jamaluddin.

He said that Sungai Tiram had channelled about 30 million litres of water per day (MLD) to the Sungai Layang dam while Sungai Papan transferred 24 MLD to the Sungai Lebam dam.

The RM4mil raw water transfer project is funded by the state government and carried out by SAJ Holdings via a 15.3km-long network of pipes from Sungai Papan to the Sungai Lebam dam.

“Water supply from the two dams is still manageable but we want consumers to use water wisely to ensure there will be no water supply disruptions,” said Jamaluddin.

He said SAJ Holdings would do its best not to implement scheduled water rationing, which had caused inconvenience to thousands of consumers from August to December last year.

The Sungai Layang dam supplies water to 580,000 consumers, mostly industrial users, in Pasir Gudang and Masai, and several parts of Johor Baru.

The Sungai Lebam dam in Kota Tinggi channels water to about 66,496 users in Mukim Tanjung Surat, Mukim Pantai Timur, Mukim Pengerang and parts of Kota Tinggi.

Raw water from Sungai Tiram is chanelled via a 5km-long network of pipes to the Sungai Layang dam.

Jamaluddin said focus would be given to the Sungai Layang dam as the water level there was largely determined by the rainfall patterns within the catchment areas.

He said the water level at the Sungai Lebam dam, on the other hand, was more or less “secured” compared with the Sungai Layang dam.


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Singapore stresses need for greater accountability on haze to Indonesia

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli and his Indonesian counterpart noted the importance of maintaining close cooperation in overcoming transboundary environmental challenges.

Channel NewsAsia 2 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has stressed to Indonesia the need for greater transparency and accountability to overcome the recurring problem of transboundary haze that has been plaguing the region for decades, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said on Wednesday (Mar 2).

The ministry announced this, after Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli met with his Indonesian counterpart Siti Nurbaya Bakar during an introductory visit to Indonesia.

In a media release, MEWR said both ministers noted the importance for Singapore and Indonesia to maintain close cooperation in overcoming transboundary environmental challenges.

"The ministers agreed that transboundary haze is a serious problem, which has affected millions in South-east Asia. The Ministers also recognised the need for closer bilateral and regional cooperation and agreed to resume the Indonesia-Singapore Environment Partnership (ISEP)," said MEWR.

During the meeting, Mr Masagos noted the Indonesian government's appeal against the Palembang district court's dismissal of the case against PT Bumi Mekar Hijau, a company which had received a notice under Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act for possibly causing haze pollution in the island-state last year.

"To that end, Minister Masagos informed Minister Siti Nurbaya that Singapore looked forward to greater cooperation with Indonesia in bringing to justice errant companies which were responsible for the transboundary haze," MEWR said.

During the meeting, Mr Masagos also reiterated Singapore's repeated requests for information on errant companies from Indonesia. In response, Dr Siti said she would discuss the matter with her Cabinet colleagues.

Dr Siti also said she would get back to Singapore on its request to accelerate the discussion on the Memorandum of Understanding with Indonesia's Jambi province to tackle transboundary haze, stated MEWR.

On Wednesday, Mr Masagos also met with the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG)'s head Nazir Foead, and discussed the BRG's direction in peatland conservation and restoration, including the roles that governments and companies could play. Potential areas of collaboration between Singapore and Indonesia that would contribute to the region's efforts to overcome transboundary haze was also discussed at the meeting, MEWR said.

- CNA/dl


S'pore still pressing Jakarta to share info on haze culprits
Arlina Arshad Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta Straits Times 3 Mar 16;

Singapore has reiterated its stand that Indonesia should share data on company names and concession maps so it could act against plantation firms that allow the kind of slash-and-burn farming which led to the region's haze crisis last year.

During his introductory visit to Indonesia yesterday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli told the country's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar that such official information was necessary in order for Singapore to take errant firms to task.

"We continue to ask for the details of the concession map as well as the companies that we know have committed offences where THPA is concerned," he told Singapore media after the meeting, referring to the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.



"This is an issue of sovereignty, too. Even if we know from intelligence, from looking at open information (on) where and who these companies are, it's important for us to pursue this legally," he said.

Dr Siti had told him that she would need to raise the matter with the Cabinet as current Indonesian laws did not allow for such information to be shared, he said.

Mr Masagos said Indonesia must resolve the issues as "at the end of the day, we'd like to see outcomes".

"Even as hot spots appear, hot spots from accidental fires, they can be mitigated and do not produce excessive smoke and then haze that affect their neighbouring countries," he said.

He also emphasised the need for closer bilateral and regional cooperation between the two countries, to ensure such environment offences do not occur. "I'm happy that Minister Siti was responsive," he said.


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Sumatra quake: Tremors felt in Singapore; authorities urge calm

Police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force urge those in Singapore to remain calm after tremors were felt in parts of Singapore following a 7.8-magnitude quake in Sumatra on Wednesday night.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Police have urged members of the public to remain calm after tremors were felt in Singapore, following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Indonesia on Wednesday night (Mar 2).

In an advisory, police said the Meteorological Services confirmed the earthquake hit southwest Sumatra - about 1,237km from Singapore - at about 8.49pm on Wednesday. Tremors were subsequently felt in parts of Singapore from 8.53pm.

Both the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) received several calls from the public reporting tremors, but there were no reports of injury or "law and order incident", the police said.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) have also visually inspected and found the reported buildings to be structurally safe, the police added. Both BCA and HDB assured the public that buildings in Singapore are designed to established building codes and are sufficiently robust to withstand tremors caused by distant earthquakes.

If cracks or structural defects are seen, HDB residents should call 24-hour hotlines 6241 7711 and 6275 5555, while those in private buildings should call the BCA at 1800-3425 222.

No new reports of tremors have been received by the police and SCDF following the latest aftershock in Sumatra, the police said.

TREMORS FELT IN BISHAN, EAST COAST, SENG KANG, ANG MO KIO

Residents in Singapore reported feeling tremors in areas including Bishan, Punggol, East Coast, Seng Kang and Ang Mo Kio. However, Singapore is unlikely to be affected by the earthquake, said the National Environment Agency.

A Katong resident, who only wanted to be identified as Ms Amanda, said she felt tremors from her 12th-floor apartment shortly after the quake struck, at about 9.05pm.

“I was lying down reading a book when suddenly I felt like the ground was moving side to side. I thought I was feeling tired, but my mum saw our lamps outside shaking, so we decided to evacuate,” she told Channel NewsAsia.

Amanda said there were about 15 residents gathered downstairs of her condominium. Her family of six stayed at the ground floor for about half an hour.

“We live quite high up, and we have two dining lamps which won’t shake if it’s just (strong) wind. It’s happened before during an earthquake as well,” said Ms Amanda of her family’s decision to self-evacuate from their apartment.

They eventually returned to their home at 9.30pm. “We just wanted to be safe first. We headed downstairs and saw other people, so that confirmed it,” she said.

A resident in Kembangan who lives in an apartment also reported feeling strong tremors from the quake. "I felt like I was swaying from left to right. On a scale of 1 to 5, I'll rate (the movement) at 2.5 to 3," said Ms Jazryl Lee.

Indonesia, especially Aceh, was badly hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The country straddles the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth's crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.

WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT OF TREMORS

If members of the public are inside a building and feel tremors, police advise them to:

i) Take cover under a sturdy table or furniture
ii) Keep away from items made of glass or any hanging object
iii) Do not use the lift
iv) Do not use any naked light, in case there is a gas leak

Those out in the open should minimise their movement and stay away from buildings, street lights and utility wires, police added. After the vibrations have stopped, they should:

i) Stay away from any exposed electrical cables, hanging glass objects
ii) Report any gas leakage
iii) Help the injured, call SCDF if the injuries are significant
iv) Report any incidents or issues of law and order to Police
v) Tune in to the radio for updates, according to police

The SCDF similarly asked those in Singapore to not be alarmed, and posted information on what to do in the event of tremors.


Major 7.8 magnitude quake strikes south-west of Indonesia; Tremors felt in S'pore
Today Online 3 Mar 16;

JAKARTA — A massive quake struck on Wednesday (March 2) off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, a region devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami, but initial fears of another region-wide disaster faded as tsunami warnings were cancelled.

Indonesian and Australian authorities called off their tsunami alerts within two hours of the 7.8 magnitude tremor, though it was still unclear if the quake had destroyed any buildings or killed people in Sumatra.

A National Search and Rescue Agency official gave an initial report of some deaths, but later withdrew those comments.

"Up until now, there is no information about deaths," said Mr Heronimus Guru, the agency's deputy head of operations.

Any rescue operation will be hampered by the dark, which falls early in the tropical archipelago.

There were no immediate reports of damage, but the shallower a quake, the more dangerous it is. The U.S. Geological Survey originally put the magnitude at 8.2, revising it down to 7.8.

The epicentre was 808km south-west of the coastal city of Padang. It was 24km deep, it said, after first putting its depth at 10km.

"So far there have been no reports (of damage)," Mr Andi Eka Sakya, head of the National Meteorological Agency, told TVOne. "In Bengkulu (in southwest Sumatra) they didn't feel it at all."

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said a tsunami was unlikely.

"Local governments of the city of Padang and some other areas in west Sumatra have said there was no tsunami and the warning can now be revoked," spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

The USGS said there was a "low likelihood of casualties and damage".

"There are likely to be no affected structures in this region," it added on its website.

The quake was felt strongly in Padang in West Sumatra for a few seconds, a AFP journalist in the city said. People ran out of their homes to higher ground. Traffic ground to a halt and there was a sense of panic on the streets, the journalist said.

President Joko Widodo was staying overnight at a hotel in Medan in North Sumatra and was safe, palace officials said. A Medan resident said he did not feel the quake.

Mr Erwin, a resident of Mentawai, a chain of islands off Sumatra, told Metro TV: "I am at the beach currently looking to see any tsunami sign with my flashlight. There's nothing. A few minutes have passed but nothing, but many people have already evacuated to higher places."

On Pagai, an island off the west coast of Sumatra, resident Jois Zaluchu told Reuters by phone that there were no reports of damage or casualties there.

But Kompas TV said patients at hospitals in Padang were being evacuated. A TVOne reporter said Padang residents were panicking and there were heavy traffic jams.

Ms Marjina, a resident of Sikakap in the Mentawai islands, about 720km from the epicentre, told AP the quake was felt weakly there, but the tsunami warning caused panic among villagers, who ran to higher ground.

Telephone communication was down in the regency of Mentawai,an official with the National Search and Rescue agency told Reuters.

The official said the agency was in contact with Mentawai officials via radio.

Indonesia, especially Aceh, was badly hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

A 9.15-magnitude quake opened a fault line deep beneath the ocean on Dec 26, 2004, triggering a wave as high as 17.4m that crashed ashore in more than a dozen countries to wipe some communities off the map in seconds.

The disaster killed 126,741 people in Aceh alone.

Indonesia straddles the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth's crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.

TREMORS FELT IN SINGAPORE

Tremors were felt in Singapore, with the police and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) receiving several calls from the public reporting these tremors. The police advised the public to remain calm. A statement by the National Environment Agency said Singapore is "unlikely to be affected" by the earthquake that struck off Indonesia at 8.49pm.

Ms Lily Tan, 26, who stays in the Boon Keng area was sitting at the dining table with her mother they felt "some swaying from left to right" at about 8.50pm. She told TODAY: "We touched the table and felt it moving too, so we figured that it is a tremor. It was very slight, but it lasted a few seconds."

Some Mediacorp hotline callers reported feeling tremors in areas around Beach Road, Jalan Besar, Crawford Lane and Bayshore Road.

The police has advised that people who feel the tremors while inside a building should take cover under a sturdy table or furniture, keep away from items made of glass or any hanging object and refrain from using the lift or any naked light in case of a gas leak.

"If they are out in the open, they should minimise their movement and stay away from buildings, street lights and utility wires," said the police advisory. Once the vibrations have stopped, members of the public should still stay away from any exposed electrical cables and hanging glass objects and report any gas leakage.

Meanwhile, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology issued a marine warning for distant Cocos and Christmas islands in the immediate aftermath of the quake. It did not advise evacuations, but said strong and dangerous currents were possible and people should secure boats and avoid waterfront areas. At 10.08pm, Australia had cancelled its tsunami warning, reported Reuters.

Malaysia's Met Service says tremors were felt in Selangor and Johor but there is no tsunami threat to the country. AGENCIES


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Singapore's cleantech companies starting to take off in the region

Andrea Soh, The Business Times AsiaOne 2 Mar 16;

Singapore - In a small Philippine village about 600 km south-west of Manila and out in the country's western island province of Palawan, the price of a piece of forested land in a Unesco World Heritage site began rising, seemingly inexplicably, a year ago.

Residents there started clearing the land and building homes on it.

The reason? News had spread that a Singapore company was going to build a solar plant there.

Atem R Ramsundersingh, the chief executive and co-founder of WEnergy Global, recalled: "The place was developing even before we went in."

The company is planning to build a US$10 million hybrid micro-grid in the protected nature area. The facility will have a capacity of 1.4 megawatt-peak (MWp) solar power, a 1 MW diesel generator and the largest clean battery in Asia at 1.7 MWh.

Building the plant, which is awaiting the formality of final approval from the local energy authorities, has given the four-year-old company a steep learning curve because of the size and complexity of the undertaking, but already, the firm has secured projects worth US$307 million and accounting for 161 MW.

After it obtains approval from the country's energy regulator, WEnergy will have the exclusive right to generate, distribute and sell power in the area for 20 years for a regulated tariff. The company estimates its profitability will be 15 per cent.

The project and the firm's experience are now being replicated across energy-hungry Asia, as a growing number of Singapore companies fan out to remote parts of the region to set up renewable-energy systems.

With global attention trained on climate change in recent years, countries all over the world have implemented national-level targets to reduce their reliance on conventional fuel sources.

Singapore companies are on top of this trend. Kow Juan Tiang, the group director of environment and infrastructure solutions at International Enterprise (IE), noted that more than 50 homegrown firms have developed expertise in renewable energy and are actively pursuing projects overseas.

"Their interest in renewable energy has increased, especially in the last two years," he said, adding that even companies in adjacent sectors have moved into the renewable energy fray.

A growing number of companies listed on the Singapore Exchange have in recent years embarked on projects ranging from solar-power installations in India to hydropower plants in Indonesia. Examples are Charisma Energy, SHS Holdings and ISDN Holdings.

The nascent clean-energy sector in Singapore follows years of government-led investment in research and development (R&D) efforts in renewable energy.

The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) was the first of a string of research bodies. It was set up in 2008, with the aim of cementing the Republic's position as a solar energy hub in the Asia-Pacific.

The Energy Research Institute at the Nanyang Technological University (ERI@N) came along in 2010 to study wind and marine renewable energy, fuel cells, energy storage, green and smart buildings and electro-mobility; a year later, the Experimental Power Grid Centre (EPGC) by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) opened with a one-megawatt experimental power grid.

The three institutions aim to go further than the basic research by the local universities; they will partner companies and create commercially viable solutions. In all, some S$2 billion has been pumped into R&D to grow the clean-technology (cleantech) sector - which includes environment and water solutions - since 2006, said the Economic Development Board (EDB). Another S$900 million has been set aside for R&D in urban solutions and sustainability in the recently unveiled Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, which maps out the track for Singapore R&D in the next five years.

The development of the clean-energy sector is, first and foremost, to serve Singapore's needs in enhancing energy security and lowering carbon emissions.

Singapore has identified solar power as the only technically feasible, renewable energy source for domestic consumption.

Over the years, however, the ambit of the sector has broadened, as the country has set its sights on exporting clean-energy expertise to the region.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran last year identified the clean-energy sector as one with "great potential" for Singapore because of the demand for it in Asia - not just in terms of the technology but also in financing models and business structures that Singapore can develop.

EDB has courted international solar and wind companies such as China's Upsolar and Denmark's Vestas to set up regional hubs and drive business growth in the region.

The cleantech sector had been expected to contribute S$3.4 billion to Singapore's gross domestic product and create up to 18,000 jobs by last year; the EDB is now ascertaining whether this target has been achieved.

All these make for an ecosystem growing in appeal to those looking for investors and businesses to provide renewable energy in the region - and there is plenty of demand for it. By 2020, annual new investments in clean energy will more than double to US$8 billion, up from US$3 billion last year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated.

Tham Chee Aun, the chief executive at Malaysia's Ditrolic Solar, which has set up a Singapore office for regional expansion, said: "A lot of leads are generated in Singapore because of its strategic positioning." Ditrolic Solar is partnering SHS Holdings in the Singapore company's push into solar energy.

For WEnergy, the expertise built up in Singapore turned out to be instrumental for its Philippine project. The engineering work in incorporating hybrid sources of power had not been done on such a scale in Asia before, said Mr Ramsundersingh.

WEnergy's search for international experts led it back to its own backyard - A*Star' EPGC, which not only had the right equipment and know-how, but was also willing to negotiate contract and payment terms to suit WEnergy's budget.

EGPC's team, led by its programme director Ashwin Khambadkone, created a power-management system that turns off the diesel generators automatically when the solar power plant produces power.

Such a system would have cost much more if bought off the shelf, said Mr Ramsundersingh. "This project wouldn't have been possible from a price-and-profit perspective if I had bought the parts from big companies. It would have been like buying a Rolls Royce when all I needed was a bicycle."

On the uncharted ground it had to navigate, WEnergy said it found the general understanding of the sector poor, so it had to educate both the government authorities and the banks on hybrid power projects.

Mr Ramsundersingh said: "Our system is now becoming a benchmark for this type of hybrid projects in the Philippines."

In his view, there is room for Singapore banks to grow in its knowledge of the sector. "The banking sector in Singapore isn't yet mature when it comes to renewable energy," he said. The firm obtained financing from Philippine banks, which he described as being more open, despite the steep learning curve.

"It's a big problem in Asia, where people with capital don't see how you can make money (with renewable energy). You've got to lecture a lot, and really take time to explain things to investment companies and investors."


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Malaysia: Elephant tusks seized at KLIA

NADIRAH H. RODZI The Star 3 Mar 16;

SEPANG: A total of 159kg of elephant tusks worth about RM1.59mil was seized at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on two separate occasions.

Authorities also seized 850g of drugs worth RM95,370 in another case at the airport.

In the first case, two Vietnamese men, aged 41 and 25, were arrested at the arrival hall at about 6pm on Friday.

“A scan on four of their bags roused the suspicion of Customs officers, who discovered 18 elephant tusks hidden in them.

“The tusks weighed 101kg and are worth about RM1mil,” said KLIA Customs Department director Datuk Chik Omar Chik Lim yesterday.

Ivory is a prohibited item under the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008.

“The tusks cannot be imported into the country without a permit from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks,” he added.

Preliminary investigations found that both suspects flew from Luanda to Addis Ababa before arriving here. It is believed that they were on transit to another country.

“One of them had entered Malaysia three times while the other, only once. They have been remanded for a week for possessing contraband items,” he added.

In the second case, five elephant tusks and seven packets of cut tusks worth about RM580,000 were confiscated from two luggage bags ­during an operation at 9pm on the same day.

Checks revealed that the bags belonged to a Vietnamese man who was on transit and had arrived here from Addis Ababa. His destination was Hanoi.

“We believe that he is linked to the men we had arrested earlier,” he said, adding that the man did not come to pick up the bags.

In the third case on Monday, a 37-year-old Malaysian woman was arrested at the KLIA mail and ­courier centre after claiming a parcel containing methamphetamine hidden among several car components.

“The parcel was posted from Nigeria and declared as car parts. When we checked it, we found a white powder inside which tested positive as drugs,” he added.

The woman, who worked at a restaurant in Cyberjaya, has been remanded for seven days under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1953.


Cops seize RM1.59mil worth of elephant tusk
NADIRAH H. RODZIandJUSTIN ZACK The Star 2 Mar 16;

SEPANG: The Customs Department has seized 159kg of elephant tusks worth about RM1.59mil and 850g of drugs worth RM95,370 in its latest haul by at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

In a press conference on Wednesday, KLIA Customs director Datuk Chik Omar Chik Lim said three smuggling attempts were stopped between Feb 26 and Feb 29.

In the first case, two Vietnamese men aged 41 and 25 respectively were arrested at the arrival gate of the KLIA following an intelligence report.

"A scan on four of their bags roused suspicion. It led officers to check their bags, where the elephant tusks were found.

"We seized 18 tusks weighing about 101kg worth about RM1mil," he told reporters.

Preliminary investigations found that both suspects flew from Luanda, Angola and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia before arriving here.

"One of them had entered Malaysia thrice while the other, once.

"They will be remanded for a week for possessing contraband items," he said.

Following the arrests, five elephant tusks worth about RM580,000 were confiscated in two pieces of luggage during an operation the same day.

Checks revealed that the luggage belonged to a Vietnamese man in transit from Addis Ababa, with Hanoi his final destination.

"We believe that he is linked to the men arrested earlier," he said.

In the third case, a 37-year-old Malaysian woman was arrested at the KLIA mail and courier centre after receiving a parcel containing methamphetamine.

"The parcel was posted from Nigeria and was declared as car parts. When we checked, we found white powder which, when tested, turned out to be drugs," he said.

The suspect, who worked at a restaurant in Cyberjaya, is being remanded for seven days under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1953, which carries the mandatory death sentence upon conviction.


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Malaysia: Endangered animals sold via FB, says group

PATRICK LEE The Star Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: Hundreds of threatened animals are up for sale online, a study by a green group tracking several local Facebook groups found.

In a five-month survey from 2014 to last year, wildlife trade watchdog Traffic South-East Asia found 236 different posts with protected animals such as the sun bear and slow loris “not very secretly” being sold for up to thousands of ringgit each.

“Many Malaysians are online on Facebook, buying and selling protected wildlife.

“There seems to be very little fear of getting caught,” its senior communications officer Elizabeth John told The Star.

Released online yesterday, the report shows some 106 unique individual sellers and four shops offering wild animals in posts spanning 14 Facebook groups.

The searches came up with Traffic only spending about 30 minutes to browse these Facebook groups each day during the study.

A majority of these animals being sold were also native to Malaysia.

The report added that only three of the 236 posts mentioned licences together with the sale of these animals.

“Any reference to licences is rare,” it said.

Malaysian law states that anyone who hunts or keeps any protected wildlife without a licence can be fined up to RM50,000 or jailed for up to two years.

The penalties are higher for young or female protected animals.

John believed that what Traffic found was only the tip of the iceberg.

“I’m sure if we widened the search ... We will find a lot more,” she said.

The report comes over a week after an exclusive report by The Star showed how easy it was to buy an endangered animal online.

A totally protected Brahminy kite priced at RM600 was sent to a hair salon for final delivery after just two days and a few Whatsapp messages. The shop was later raided by Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) officers.

Perhilitan enforcement division director Hasnan Yusop said the trend of selling protected animals online was difficult to police.

“Users from each of the many groups or pages come from individuals that use fake accounts to confuse the authorities,” he said.


Facebook wildlife trade prompts fears among environmentalists
Matt McGrath BBC 3 Mar 16;

Environmentalists say they are worried about the emergence of Facebook as an online marketplace for trade in endangered species.

Wildlife monitoring network Traffic found hundreds of protected animals for sale on Facebook groups in Malaysia, including sun bears, gibbons, and binturongs, also known as bearcats.

It says this type of illegal trading is a growing threat around the world.

Facebook said it "will not hesitate" to remove content promoting such trade.

The researchers monitored 14 Facebook groups for 30 minutes daily over a period of five months. They found more than 300 wild, live animals for sale as pets.

"You often find that in trading there's a small percentage of people involved in illegal activity," said Sarah Stoner from Traffic, one of the report's authors.

"But we identified 236 posts where there was perceived illegal activity, there were 106 different sellers, that's quite a lot of different people and it shows how prevalent it is."

The researchers say the development of an online trade is surprising in Malaysia because open wildlife markets are not found in the country, unlike in other parts of Asia.

"The demand for these animals has always existed in Malaysia but it's never really had an outlet to flourish whereas the internet and Facebook seems to be providing that platform to enable the trade to happen in this manner," said Sarah Stoner.

Almost half of the species recorded were protected and illegal to sell under Malaysian law. Some 25 of the 69 non-native animals protected under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Traffic say they have shared the details of their investigation with Facebook who are looking to develop practical solutions to combat the trade.
"We are committed to working with Traffic to help tackle the illegal online trade of wildlife in Malaysia," Facebook said in a statement.

"Facebook does not allow the sale and trade of endangered animals and we will not hesitate to remove any content that violates our terms of service."
The investigators also passed on their information to the Malaysian authorities.

"We have carried out 43 successful seizures, arrested at least 54 illegal traders and saved over 67 wildlife species from being traded illegally on Facebook,'' said Hasnan Yusop, from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, who pointed out that his colleagues have been Facebook groups selling wildlife since 2013.

''More importantly, we also want to send out a stern warning - if anyone is caught violating our law, they will face harsh penalties," he added.

Investigators are concerned that the use of social media and smartphones means that anyone interested in selling wildlife can rapidly access huge numbers of potential buyers.

They are worried that technology is opening lucrative new markets, all over the world.

"Although the findings are about illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia, we believe it reflects a worldwide problem," said Traffic's Sarah Stoner.

"Social media's ability to put traffickers in touch with many potential buyers quickly, cheaply and anonymously is of concern for threatened wildlife and enforcement agencies which demands nothing short of a concerted global response.''


Facebook Groups: Malaysia’s new wildlife trade marketplace
TRAFFIC 3 Mar 16;
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 3rd March 2016—Malaysians are turning Facebook into a wildlife marketplace, driving a roaring and often illegal trade in iconic and threatened animals, according to a new report from TRAFFIC.

Just half an hour’s daily monitoring over five months by TRAFFIC researchers of 14 Facebook Groups in Peninsular Malaysia found more than 300 apparently wild, live animals for sale as pets, ranging from Sun Bears Helarctos malayanus and gibbons, to otters and even Binturong Arctictis binturong.

The previously undocumented trade was unexpected because Peninsular Malaysia does not have open wildlife markets like those found elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

“The rise of social media appears to have enabled the creation of a thriving marketplace for wild animals as pets where one previously didn’t exist in Malaysia,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Programme Manager for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia and a co-author of the new report, Trading Faces: A Rapid Assessment on the use of Facebook to Trade Wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia (PDF, 2.2 MB).

Most surprising was the level of domestic trade in live native animals: more than 60% of the 80 species recorded during the monitoring were native to Malaysia, indicating a demand for local wildlife as pets. Almost half of the species recorded were totally protected from hunting or trade and illegal to sell under the country’s Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Twenty five of the 69 non-native species for sale, including the Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea from Indonesia and the Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora from Madagascar, were protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which restricts or prohibits their commercial international trade.

Most of the 14 Facebooks Groups were “Closed Groups”, requiring membership to view and trade online. At the time of monitoring, the Groups boasted close to 68,000 active members while the 106 identified unique sellers had made little effort to conceal their illegal activities.

TRAFFIC shared the outcomes of the research with Facebook, who responded positively and are collaborating with TRAFFIC to identify practical solutions to prevent abuse of their platform in Malaysia and beyond.

“We are committed to working with TRAFFIC to help tackle the illegal online trade of wildlife in Malaysia. Facebook does not allow the sale and trade of endangered animals and we will not hesitate to remove any content that violates our Terms of Service,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

TRAFFIC also shared its findings with Peninsular Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) who have launched a number of successful operations against wildlife traders operating on the social networking site.

“We recognize the scale of this problem as we have been monitoring over 30 Facebook Groups selling wildlife since 2013. PERHILITAN has taken measures to address the problem, including working with other law enforcement agencies to stop the illegal trade of wildlife on Facebook. We have carried out 43 successful seizures, arrested at least 54 illegal traders and saved over 67 wildlife species from being traded illegally on Facebook,'' said Hasnan Yusop, PERHILITAN's Director of Enforcement.

“More importantly, we also want to send out a stern warning – if anyone is caught violating our law, they will face harsh penalties,” he added.

“We’re yet to grasp the full extent of the online threat to wildlife, but initial discussions with Facebook and the early enforcement successes by Perhilitan have been encouraging, although continued action will be crucial in curbing this spiraling form of illegal trade,’’ said Krishnasamy.

The report’s recommendations include a call for closer collaboration between enforcement agencies and Facebook to enable effective targeting of offenders and a request for social media sites to do more to raise awareness about the issue and denounce illegal activity.

Additionally, the report recommends a dedicated forum be set up at the regional and global levels for governments, social networking bodies and NGO partners to find realistic solutions to the problem.

“Although the findings are about illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia, we believe it reflects a worldwide problem,” said Sarah Stoner, a Senior Crime Data Analyst with TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

“Social media’s ability to put traffickers in touch with many potential buyers quickly, cheaply and anonymously is of concern for threatened wildlife and enforcement agencies which demands nothing short of a concerted global response.’’

The Trading Faces: A Rapid Assessment on the use of Facebook to Trade Wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia report was produced with the support of WWF-Netherlands.


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Malaysia: No tsunami threat to Malaysia - Met Dept

AKIL YUNUS The Star 2 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Meteorological Department has confirmed that there is no threat of a tsunami hitting Malaysia, after a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the west of Sumatra Wednesday evening.

A spokesman for the Department said Malaysia was not under immediate threat as it was mostly shielded by the island of Sumatra.

"There is a likelihood of light tremors between the shores of Selangor and Johor," he said.

Indonesia issued a tsunami warning after the massive and shallow earthquake struck off the west coast of Sumatra at 8.49pm on Wednesday.

The earthquake's epicentre was 808km southwest of Padang and 10km deep, according to the US Geological Survey.


Sumatra quake: No tsunami threat to Malaysia
NST ONLINE New Straits Times 2 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: There is no tsunami threat to Malaysia following a 7.9-magnitude earthquake which struck Sumatra this evening.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department, in a statement tonight, said the 8.49pm (local time) quake will not result in a tsunami in Malaysia despite tremors felt in parts of Selangor and Johor.

Kota Baru, Kelantan was also reportedly affected by tremors.

Following the quake, Indonesia issued a tsunami warning for West Sumatra, North Sumatra and Aceh.

The quake’s epicentre was 808 km (502 miles) southwest of Padang, US Geological Survey (USGS) said. It was 10 km (six miles) deep.

USGS had originally put the magnitude at 8.2, and then 8.1, before lowering it to 7.9. Australia had also initially issued a tsunami warning for Cocos Island and Christmas Island while it monitored developments in Australian Coast, including Perth.

“Evacuation was not required on the islands, however people were advised to get out of waters,” said Australia's Bureau of Meteorology.

It said this was due to the risks of dangerous waves and currents.


Johor, Selangor residents shaken by Sumatra quake
The Star 3 Mar 16;

JOHOR BARU: Residents panicked when tremors were felt at their condominium here Wednesday night following an earthquake in West Sumatra, Indonesia.

Johor Baru Fire and Rescue operations commander Rohaizat Hamdan said a five fire-fighters were sent to the 19-storey building in Taman Bukit Aliff, Tampoi, after a resident notified the station of tremors at 9.09pm.

He said the fire fighters felt the tremors after they arrived there and quickly ordered all residents to assemble in an open space outside the building.

"The tremors were felt from the 11th floor upwards, and we are still conducting checks at the building," he said, adding that the residents would be allowed into their homes after the situation was considered safe.

The tremors were triggered by a strong earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale in southwest Sumatra at 8.49pm.

In Selangor, the Fire and Rescue Department received three distress calls over tremors.

Selangor Fire and Rescue Department assistant director of operations Mohd Sani Harul said the first call came at 8.54pm from a resident of the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) flats in Section 7, Petaling Jaya.

He said the second call was received 15 minutes later from a resident of Block A, Section 26/38, Kampung Baru Hicom, Shah Alam.

"The third call was received a minute after that, from the Tiara Park Home area in Taman Bukit Ria, Kajang," he said in a statement here tonight.

In Kota Baru, residents of apartments at the 23-storey Pelangi Mall also rushed out of their homes after experiencing tremors.

Kota Baharu Fire and Rescue head of operations Senior Fire Officer II Ismail Mohd Taib said checks by his men found no one trapped in the building and all returned to their homes after the all clear was given. - Bernama


Sumatra quake tremors felt in Kota Baru
KALBANA PERIMBANAYAGAM New Straits Times 2 Mar 16;

KOTA BARU: Residents from the Pelangi Mall condominium here abandoned their units in terror as tremors shook the building tonight.

Tremors struck the building around 9.15pm, causing residents from two 23-storey blocks to scramble downstairs and gather outside.

The tremors however was barely fy at the remaining block - Block A - which is 15-storeys high.

Police were also present at the public area outside the riverside condominium, where the people had gathered temporarily.

The tremor is believed to have originated from a powerful 7.9-scale earthquake which struck Sumatra west coast tonight.

No tsunami warning has been issued for Malaysia.


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Indonesia: Jakarta to sue 9 more firms over forest fires linked to haze

Arlina Arshad Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta Straits Times 1 Mar 16;

The Indonesian government is to take nine more companies to court over forest fires that led to the transboundary haze crisis last year.

This takes to 19 the number of firms being sued by the Environment and Forestry Ministry over the environmental disaster.

The ministry's director-general for law enforcement, Mr Rasio Ridho Sani, said the government plans to sanction the 19 firms over the forest fires "as soon as possible".

"They have failed to carry out their responsibility as stipulated in their permits, which resulted in fires," he told The Straits Times during an event at the ministry yesterday.

He declined to name the firms or say whether they are local or foreign, but he said that 23 other companies have been penalised over the illegal fires, including 16 that had their business licences suspended and three that have been permanently banned from operating in Indonesia.

The ministry has been suing plantation firms for causing land and forest fires since 2013, but Mr Rasio said catching those responsible for the fires is not easy.

"The crimes took place in the forest, so unless the perpetrators were caught red-handed, it's not easy to pinpoint who actually set the fires," he said.

"These cases are so complex and very hard to prove, so we need the support of experts to help us convince the judges to hand out appropriate sentences."

The latest move comes two weeks after the government filed an appeal over a court decision on its lawsuit against local pulpwood plantation company Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) for similar violations.

The government sued BMH for 7.8 trillion rupiah (S$820 million) last year for clearing land in 2014 using the outlawed slash-and- burn technique, a method that often leads to uncontrollable fires which produce thick haze. But a Palembang district court ruled on Dec 30 that there was no evidence that BMH had deliberately started fires.

Mr Rasio said the ministry had lodged its appeal in the South Sumatra provincial court following consultations with 26 legal experts.

"We are committed to handling this case in a very serious manner," he said.


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Indonesia: Locals to be hired to stop forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 3 Mar 16;

The government is introducing a new strategy to combat the forest fires that plague the country annually by encouraging local residents to engage actively in land forest fire prevention. Volunteers will be trained in fire prevention.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Willem Rampangilei said people living in forest fire-prone areas were rarely actively involved in mitigation efforts, and indeed often faced the blame for the fires.

“Local people can play a pivotal role in mitigating forest fires because they are more likely to have the opportunity to react promptly when a disaster strikes,” Willem told a media conference on Wednesday. “We have to involve them so they can protect their own villages.”

Local people, he went on, had in fact expressed willingness to prevent forest fires, but had been held back by a lack of facilities, especially equipment and water resources.

“As such, local people’s ability to prevent fires is limited, and their efforts have not been well coordinated,” Willem said.

In order to increase the capabilities of local people, the government will first determine standard procedures, in conjunction with local authorities. The government, with the regional governments at the helm of the program, will then recruit local people and organize them into task forces, according to Willem.

“They will be trained by the regional governments, the Indonesian Military [TNI] and the police,” he said. “They will then be provided equipment.”

The training program will be funded from the state and local budgets, as well as contributions from businesses. The program is also open to international support.

“The rest of the funding is from international donors. One that has spoken to me is the World Bank, which has pledged US$12 million,” Willem said.

If the combined funding from the local budget, private sector and international donors could not cover the total cost of the program, Willem said, then the central government would make up the shortfall.

“This year, we have Rp 4 trillion [$300.7 million] of on-call budget derived from the state budget,” he said, adding that Rp 49 billion had been used so far to respond to flooding that has hit a number of regions since the beginning of the rainy season.

Besides involving local people in forest fire prevention, the government is also mulling giving financial incentives to villages that prevent fires from happening in their area.

“The amount [of the incentives] is up to the regional governments to decide, but the latest assumption is around Rp 100 million,” Willem said.

The private sector began a similar initiative in 2014. The program, dubbed “Fire-Free Village”, is conducted by paper and palm oil companies, including Asia Pasific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL) group, Musim Mas, Asian Agri and Wilmar.


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Indonesia: Floods, landslides hit houses in Jambi

The Jakarta Post 3 Mar 16;

Heavy rain triggered floods and landslides in West Tanjungjabung regency, Jambi, on Wednesday, engulfing and burying thousands of houses. No fatalities were reported.

According to West Tanjungjabung Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Saefudin, the worst hit village was Lubuk Sebontan, where hundreds of houses were engulfed by floodwater, and others hit by landslides.

Saefudin said another landslide in Muarapalik had buried three houses, while floodwater up to 1.5 meters had engulfed dozens of houses, cutting off the main access to the village.

The flood was caused by the overflowing of the Pengabuan River, he added. “The agency has sent two teams in two cars to the worst hit areas, carrying rubber boats and food aid from the central government.”

Landslide buries house in Kupang
The Jakarta Post 3 Mar 16;

Heavy rain that doused Kupang city throughout Monday triggered a landslide that buried a house on Tuesday night. No fatalities were reported.

The house in Bello subdistrict, Maulafa district, had earlier been vacated by owner Megaria Nenobahan, who was aware of the potential danger amid the torrential rain.

“The owner has moved, since landslides often occur at that spot,” neighborhood chief Vallens Vina told reporters on Wednesday.

Vallens said that besides Megaria’s house, located on a slope on the banks of the Kuanfu River, three other houses in the area had also subsided as a result of the land movement, forcing the owners to move out to relatives’ houses elsewhere.

The local administration has frequently warned owners of houses on the riverbanks of the possibility of landslides; in 2012, a landslide in the area buried 14 houses.


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Indonesia: Agency lifts tsunami warning after 7.8 magnitude earthquake

Antara 3 Mar 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The residents around Mentawai Island, West Sumatra are now safe after the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) officially lifted its Tsunami warning status, said the Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

"The Agency (BNPB) received notification on the revocation of the tsunami warning status on Wednesday at 10:34 p.m. People can now return to their homes, do not be afraid as the condition is safe," said Sutopo in a statement received here on Wednesday night.

Sutopo said that his agency have received information from the BMKG about the potential of a tsunami threat caused by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday at 7:49:47 p.m.

"The occurrence of a tsunami was detected in Cocos Island as high as 10 centimeters at 9.15 p.m and in Padang as high as 5 centimeters at 9.40 .m," Sutopo said.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agencys Command Post had been able to communicate with its regional office (BPBD) using radio communications to report the resident condition.

Based on information, the condition is safe and the people are already in safe places,

"People in Sikakap, South Pagai, Sipora, Siberut and other Mentawai Islands are in safe conditions and have taken refuge in high places," Sutopo added.

He said a number of areas that are also safe from a tsunami such as areas on the island and along the west coast of Sumatra in South Nias, Nias, Simeulue, Aceh Singkil, Aceh Barat, Muko-Muko, the area along North Sumatra coast, West Sumatra, Bengkulu and Lampung.

"No casualties or damage to buildings were reported. West Sumatra BMKG has lifted its tsunami warning for 15 surrounding areas since 9:30 p.m," noted Sutopo.

People in the city of Padang and in part of the west coast of Sumatra have responded to the tsunami warning by evacuating to tsunami shelters.

Previously, the mitigation agency has built a number of shelters that have been used for public evacuation.

In addition, people also used the roof tops of mosques, high buildings, schools and others.

Panic situation was experienced in several places which caused traffic congestion on the streets as many people were evacuating using their own vehicles.

"With the lifting of the tsunami warning, residents were asked to return home in an orderly manner. Do not be afraid. The most important thing is staying alert and following the officials direction," Sutopo said.(*)

8.3-magnitude quake rocks West Sumatra
Antara 2 Mar 16;

Padang, W Sumatra (ANTARA News) - A powerful earthquake of 8.3 magnitude rocked several parts of West Sumatra province on Wednesday at 07.49 p.m. local time.

The epicenter of the quake was located 5.61 degrees southern latitude and 94.05 degrees eastern longitude or 682 kilometers southwest of Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra, at a depth of 10 km, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said.
The quake had the potential to cause a tsunami, the agency said.

The (BMKG) has issued a tsunami early warning for the provinces of West Sumatra, North Sumatra, Aceh, Bengkulu and Lampung in the wake of the 8.3-magnitude earthquake.(*)


Powerful quake hits Mentawai, no casualties reported
Syofiardi Bachyul JB and Safrin La Batu, The Jakarta Post 3 Mar 16;

A powerful earthquake struck on Wednesday evening off the west coast of Sumatra Island, no fatalities were reported.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) initially said the quake measured 8.3 on the Richter scale before revising it downward to 7.8.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said earlier that the magnitude measured 8.2 on the Richter scale, then 8.1, before lowering it to 7.9.

The epicenter of the quake was located 808 kilometers southwest of Padang and was 10 km deep, the USGS said.

Mentawai, the regency closest to the epicenter and left devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean quake, was reported to have no damage.

Head of BMKG Padang Panjang Rahmat Triyono said that hundreds of people in the Mentawai Islands and western coast of Sumatra rushed to find higher ground after it issued a tsunami warning. The warning was then lifted.

Bambang Sagurung, a resident of Siberut Island in Mentawai, said the quake was strong, but did not cause damage to his home.

“I was having dinner with my family, the water dispenser was shaking and then we got out the house. I felt another quake after the first one, and then we rushed toward the hill,” he told The Jakarta Post over the phone.

Another resident of Siberut, Mariai, said a warning was placed for one-and-a-half hours after the 7.8-magnitude quake rocked the island.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said there had not been any reports of injuries or damage following the quake.

“We haven’t received any reports of injuries or damage. Based on the information that we have gathered, the tsunami warnings were issued in Aceh, Bengkulu and Lampung,” he said in a statement.

- See more at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/03/03/powerful-quake-hits-mentawai-no-casualties-reported.html#sthash.jed4tIr6.dpuf

Strong quake hits off Sumatra, people rush to high ground
Ali Kotarumalos, Associated Press, Jakarta Post 2 Mar 16;

A powerful, shallow earthquake hit off the southwestern coast of Sumatra on Wednesday, triggering a tsunami warning that sent islanders rushing to high ground. An official said the potential for a tsunami was small.

The US Geological Service said the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.8. It was centered under the ocean at a depth of 24 kilometers, it said.

Shallow earthquakes are more likely to cause damage, but the USGS said the quake was located far from land, about 659 kilometers from the town of Muara Siberut.

Andi Eka Sakya, head of Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, said there was only a small potential for a tsunami. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, he said.

"I think its potential for a tsunami is very small," because the quake didn't occur along a major fault known as a subduction zone, he told TVOne.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basin.

A massive magnitude-9.1 quake off Indonesia in 2004 triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries. Most of the deaths were in Indonesia's Aceh province on Sumatra.

Marjina, a resident of Sikakap in the Mentawai islands, about 690 kilometers from the epicenter, said the quake was felt only weakly there, but the tsunami warning caused panic among villagers, who ran to higher ground.

A resident of Siberut island, which is closest to the epicenter, said people evacuated to higher ground and were waiting for the tsunami warning to be lifted.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology issued a marine warning for the distant Cocos and Christmas islands. It did not advise evacuations, but said strong and dangerous currents were possible and people should secure boats and avoid waterfront areas. The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued but then canceled a tsunami watch for Western Australia.

The Indian government issued a statement advising that no tsunami threat was posed for the Indian coast.

Indonesia, Australia issue tsunami warning after 7.9 magnitude quake off Sumatra
Indonesia issued a tsunami warning on Wednesday after a massive and shallow earthquake struck off the west coast of its island of Sumatra, a region devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Mar 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia issued a tsunami warning on Wednesday after a massive and shallow earthquake struck off the west coast of its island of Sumatra, a region devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami.

The warning was issued for West Sumatra, North Sumatra and Aceh after the quake of magnitude 7.9, the National Meteorological Agency said, but rescue efforts will be hampered by the darkness that falls early in the tropical archipelago.

The epicentre was 808 km (502 miles) southwest of Padang, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was 10 km (six miles) deep.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, but the shallower a quake, the more likely it is to cause damage. USGS originally put the magnitude at 8.2, and then 8.1, before lowering it to 7.9.

"So far there have been no reports (of damage) yet," Andi Eka Sakya, an official of the National Meteorological Agency, told TVOne. "In Bengkulu (on southwest coast of Sumatra) they didn't feel it at all."

President Joko Widodo was staying overnight at a hotel in Medan in North Sumatra and was safe, palace officials said. A Medan resident said he didn't feel the quake.

Neighbouring Australia issued a tsunami watch for parts of its western coast.

Indonesia, especially Aceh, was badly hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

A 9.15-magnitude quake opened a fault line deep beneath the ocean on Dec. 26, 2004, triggering a wave as high as 17.4 meters (57 feet) that crashed ashore in more than a dozen countries to wipe some communities off the map in seconds.

The disaster killed 126,741 people in Aceh alone.

Indonesia straddles the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth's crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.

(Reporting by Randy Fabi; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

- Reuters


Indonesian tsunami warning buoys not working when quake hit
The national disaster agency said the process of confirming that a tsunami had not occurred was hindered because none of the country's 22 early-warning buoys were working.
Channel NewsAsia 3 Mar 16;

JAKARTA: A series of early-warning buoys deployed after a 2004 tsunami devastated parts of Indonesia's western Sumatra island were not working when a huge quake rocked the same area on Wednesday (Mar 3), an official said.

The 7.8 magnitude, shallow undersea quake hit late Wednesday off Sumatra, sending panicked residents fleeing for the hills and briefly triggering a tsunami alert. But a tsunami was not generated and there have been no reports of casualties or major damage, with life largely returning to normal in affected areas on Thursday.

However, the national disaster agency said the process of confirming that a tsunami had not occurred was hindered because none of the country's 22 early-warning buoys were working.

The early part of the warning process ran smoothly, with a tsunami alert quickly sent out to communities across Sumatra, which led to sirens sounding and people heading to higher ground.

But without the working buoys, which can detect changes in water movement and relay the data back to officials, it took authorities around three hours to confirm that destructive waves had not been generated and to call off the alert.

"The tsunami buoys have been damaged by vandalism, and a there is a lack of funds for maintenance," disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told reporters.

"This situation makes it difficult to confirm whether a tsunami has occurred or not," he added.

The buoys were part of a sophisticated, multi-million-dollar warning system, constructed with help of foreign donors following the 2004 tsunami that occurred when a magnitude 9.1 earthquake struck off Sumatra.

It sent a huge tsunami barrelling into Aceh province, on Sumatra's northern tip, and to countries around the Indian Ocean, leaving around 220,000 people dead.

A series of strong aftershocks continued to rock Sumatra Thursday but the Meteorology, Climate and Geophysics Agency, which monitors earthquakes, urged people to remain calm.

"Based on data from these aftershocks we do not believe there will be an earthquake of greater strength," the agency said in a statement. Calm had returned to the city of Padang in western Sumatra, where the quake had been felt strongly.

A team of military personnel and search and rescue officials were also dispatched Thursday to the remote Mentawai Islands, the closest land to the epicentre, to check on communities that had not been contacted since the quake.

- AFP/yt


Quake reveals shelters lacking, radios broken
Syofiardi Bachyul JB, Hans Nicholas Jong and Ina Parlina, The Jakarta Post 4 Mar 16;

When an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale struck the west coast of Sumatra on Wednesday night, thousands of residents of Sikakap district, Mentawai Islands, rushed to nearby hills.

Having learned from a devastating tsunami in 2010 and previous drills organized by the authorities, the residents took the prepared paths to higher ground located a kilometer from North Pagai beach.

Fortunately, the tremblor, slightly more intense but further from the islands than that of 2010, caused no damage or loss of life.

But fear remained after arriving at the hill as no shelter or telecommunication facilities to call for assistance were available.

“There was nothing up there. Everyone, including children and the elderly, had to stay there all night,” Sikakap district head Happy Nurdiana told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

She said the shelters that had been readied after the 2010 tsunami were unusable as were radio facilities that had been installed in 2007.

Mentawai Islands Disaster Management Agency head Elisa Siriparang also lamented the lack of communication facilities. “When the earthquake occurred, I was on a boat heading to Padang. My cell phone was functioning but I couldn’t reach anyone on site,” he said.

She added that several other facilities, including tsunami-warning sirens, were out of service.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basin.

A massive quake measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale off the northern part of Aceh in 2004 triggered a tsunami that left 230,000 people dead in a dozen countries. Most of the deaths were in Aceh.

Since then escalated preparation efforts for the mitigation of earthquakes and tsunamis had been made along the western coast of Sumatra.

An earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale off the coast of West Sumatra rocked the province in 2009, claiming at least 1,100 lives and injuring thousands more, although no tsunami occurred.

In 2010, a 7.7-magnitude quake caused a tsunami that swept away two villages in South and North Pagai islands, killing at least 23 and destroying hundreds of homes.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) located the epicenter of the quake 280 kilometers off Padang, the province’s capital, and 20 kilometers deep. Wednesday’s jolt was located 659 kilometers from Muara Siberut, a town in Mentawai, and was 24 kilometers deep.

Rapot Pardomuan, a local rights activist with the Alliance of Indigenous People (AMAN), said the earthquake should be a wake-up call for the central government and local authorities to better equip tsunami-prone areas. “The central government and local administrations must act,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government praised the preparedness of local residents.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he believed people in Sumatra now had a better awareness about how to stay safe during natural disasters, particularly earthquakes and tsunamis, as a result of the experience of past disasters.

“Everyone is [now] aware; this is important,” Jokowi said on the sidelines of his visit to Medan, North Sumatra.

“What’s important is how people respond immediately by leaving houses and buildings to seek higher ground. And all of that was put into practice last night by the people in Mentawai Islands,” said National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

But with the risk of tsunamis still endemic in the archipelago, Sutopo said the government needed to increase the budget for tsunami-mitigation efforts.
Earthquake record in Mentawai

* July 6, 2013: 6.1-magnitude earthquake jolted the island and also felt in the Sumatra cities of Padang, Jambi and Bengkulu. No reports of damage or fatalities.

* Nov. 27, 2014: A 4.7-magnitude earthquake shook South Siberut Regency, Mentawai Islands. No reports of damage or fatalities.

* Dec. 18, 2014: A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the island again. No reports of damage or casualties.

* July 24, 2015: A 4.8-magnitude quake reported some 110 km west-southwest of Padang. No casuaties and damage were reported.

*Aug. 2, 2015: A 4.7-magnitude earthquake Mentawai again and was also felt in Padang and Painan. No casualties and damage were reported.


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Indonesia: Illegal gold mining blamed for damage to national park

Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post 3 Mar 16;

Illegal gold mining activities have been blamed for environmental damage in the Lore Lindu National Park (TNLL) in Poso and Sigi regencies, Central Sulawesi, 90 kilometers to the south of the provincial capital of Palu.

Some 1,000 illegal miners are currently conducting mining activities in a 4-hectare area in Dongi-Dongi village, Sedoa subdistrict located in both regencies.

Chairman of the Central Sulawesi Environmental Agency, Abd Rahim, said that miners from different regions continued to flock to the site, digging the soil and leaving holes on hillsides, searching for gold ore.

Unfortunately, Rahim said, the site was located in a part of the TNLL that had just been rehabilitated in the last four months. Unless something was done about it, he said, the forest damage in the area would get worse.

“It is also feared [the illegal mining] may cause social conflict in the community,” he said recently.

He said his office had examined the location and found damage that could further deteriorate the flora and fauna ecosystem in the TNLL rehabilitation zone.

He also said his office had coordinated with the TNLL center and established an integrated team that had been tasked by the governor with curbing the illegal mining.

Central Sulawesi Governor Longki Djanggola said the illegal mining needed to be curtailed as soon as possible because apart from damaging the environment the toxic waste it produced endangered the health of people in the vicinity.

“That is very dangerous. The security authorities have to be firm in dealing with illegal miners,” Longki said.

Separately, Sigi Police operations unit chief Comr. Abdul Aziz said the police had often arrested residents for digging up soil from the mining sites and taking it to Palu for further processing.

“We’ve several times arrested residents at traffic check points and seized sacks containing soil from pick-up trucks,” Aziz said.

He said the police could not take firm action against the illegal miners as they had no firm policy from the local government.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Central Sulawesi branch director Ahmad Pelor urged action, saying the illegal mining site was located within protected forest and was categorized as an area prone to disasters especially landslides.

“The government and all related parties have to move fast to prevent the damage from further expanding and to stop the number of miners from increasing,” he said.

He also expressed support for the shutting down of the illegal mining area but suggested that it be conducted through persuasive means.

TNLL officially covers an area of 217,991.18 hectares. It is home to flora and fauna endemic to Sulawesi and offers interesting natural phenomena as a result of its being located on the Wallace Line, which is the transition line between the Asian and Australasian landmasses.

Located to the south of Donggala regency and to the west of Poso regency, the park is a water-catchment area for the three big rivers in the province, namely the Lariang, Gumbasa and Palu rivers.

The park is a habitat for Sulawesi’s biggest native mammals including anoa, hog deer, deer, ghost monkeys, kakaktonkea monkeys, kuskus marsupials and civets. At least five different species of squirrels and 31 out of 38 species of rats can also be found there.

Other riches of the park include thousands of insect species and ancient megalithic structures considered to be the best of their kind in Indonesia.


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Parts of Great Barrier Reef face permanent destruction due to El Nino: scientists

Colin Packham Reuters Yahoo News 2 Mar 16;

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Parts of Australia's Great Barrier Reef face permanent destruction if the current El Nino, one of the strongest in two decades, does not ease this month, scientists said on Wednesday.

The El Nino is a result of a warming of the ocean in the western Pacific -- ideal conditions for coral bleaching, where coral expels living algae, causing it to calcify. Coral can only survive within a narrow band of ocean temperature.

The scientists said areas of the Great Barrier Reef, a world heritage site, are experiencing the worst bleaching in 15 years.

Coral around Lizard Island off the tropical city of Cairns has seen the most widespread bleaching, with 80 percent of its coral bleached under unrelenting sunlight, Dr Anne Hoggett, director, Lizard Island Research Station told Reuters.

"Bleaching is a clear signal that living corals are under physiological stress. If that stress is bad enough for long enough, the corals can die," said Dr Russell Reichelt, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said.

"What happens now will be entirely dependent on local weather conditions," said Reichelt.

Scientists said the Great Barrier Reef needs a break in El Nino conditions within weeks if some coral areas are to survive.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology's most recent forecast calls for a continuation of El Nino conditions.

This year will be the hottest on record and 2016 could be even hotter due to the El NiƱo weather pattern, the World Meteorological Organization

The Great Barrier Reef stretches 2,000 kms (1,200 miles) along Australia's northeast coast and is the world's largest living ecosystem. It brings in billions of dollars a year in tourism revenue.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee last May stopped short of placing the Great Barrier Reef on an "in danger" list, but the ruling raised long-term concerns about its future due to climate change.

While the El Nino is set to ease by the middle of 2016, according to the BOM, the weather system - which brings hot, dry conditions to Australia's east coast - is seen as foreshadowing the likely impact of future climate change.

"Coral is the canary in the mine," said Hoggett of the looming threat from climate change.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)


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Thousands to march against coal plant threat to Bangladesh's Sundarbans forest

Organisers hope march from the capital to the heritage-listed mangrove forest will persuade Bangladesh’s government to drop backing for the power plants
Jeremy Hance The Guardian 2 Mar 16;

Thousands of Bangladeshis will march from the country’s capital, Dhaka, to the world’s biggest mangrove forest next week in protest at plans to build two coal-power plants on the edge of the World Heritage-listed forest.

The organisers of the so-called long march on 10 March hope to persuade the Bangladeshi government to drop its backing for construction of the plants near the Sundarbans, an area of rice paddies, shrimp farms and vast mangrove forests.

“No sensible person will deny that there are many alternative ways for electricity generation,” said Anu Muhammad an economist with Jahangirnagar University, and head of the march organisers, the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports. “But there is no alternative for [the] Sundarbans.”

Both the proposed 1,320 MW Rampal coal plant and the 565 MW Orion coal plant will sit within 14km of the Sundarbans, a 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq miles) forest listed as both a Unesco World Heritage site and a Ramsar-protected wetland. The great forest is split between Bangladesh and India, but the bulk of its lies in the former.

Activists fear that the coal plants will slowly destroy the Sundarbans – already under threat from forest fragmentation and overpopulation – due to air and water pollution, changes in water quality and increased boat traffic. The Rampal coal plant alone will take 219,600 cubic metres of water every day from the Passur river, potentially changing the salinity and temperature of the water on which mangroves depend.

The government estimates that the Rampal coal plant will require approximately a shipment of coal every day through the ecosystem’s winding, shallow rivers. Critics say this could increase chances of a catastrophic spill, a concern brought home in 2014 when an oil tanker spilled 75,000 gallons into the fragile ecosystem. For days, locals were left to fight the toxic spill with little more than pots, pans, spoons and sponges.

The government contends that the coal plants will have little to no impact on the forest, saying they will use the latest technology to mitigate pollution.

“We see no reason why this project would destroy the Sundarbans, as alleged,” said Ujjwal Bhattacharya, managing director of the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC), which is running the Rampal coal plant. The BIFPC is a joint company between India and Bangladesh’s national power companies.

Bhattacharya added that the new coal plant is based on “stringent” environmental guidelines and follows Bangladeshi law.

The Bangladeshi government also argues that the coal plants are necessary to reduce poverty in a country where around a third of the population lacks power.

“This project will usher in economic prosperity in the Rampal area … which will reduce dependency of the local population on [the Sundarbans],” said Bhattacharya. “This will rather help the government … to save the Sundarbans.”

While most officials are sticking to the government line, Bangladesh’s finance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, admitted last month to reporters that the coal plant would have “some impacts obviously,” adding that the boats carrying coal on a daily basis will “substantially affect the flora and fauna there”.

Activists note that this is a coal plant that could never be built in neighbouring India, which has a law on the books that coal plants must be at least 25km from the edge of any forest.

Miha Mizra, a local researcher and activist, said that these projects are indicative of the Bangladesh government’s “one track obsession over high GDP growth as the standard of progress”. She calls this “a very shallow idea of development which is merely growth based, consumption driven, and energy obsessed” and accuses the government of viewing Bangladesh’s poor and its forests as just “collateral damage that is expected to be sacrificed”.

The collateral damage could also include Bangladesh’s last population of tigers, which are found in the Sundarbans. A recent survey found only 106 tigers surviving in Bangladesh’s side of the forest, far fewer than expected. Bangladesh was one of 13 tiger-range countries that pledged in 2010 to double the world’s population of tigers within 20 years, but so far its own population has continued to fall.

Other threatened species in the Sundarbans include two river dolphins and an endemic bird, the masked finfoot. Overall, researchers have documented more than 1,000 species in the Sundarbans – and that’s not including insects.

Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis depend directly on the Sundarbans forest and its waterways for their livelihood, from fisheries to honey production. The forest also provides a vital buffer against the cyclones that routinely hit this part of the world. Muhammad calls it a “natural safeguard … for nearly 40 million people.”

Despite its vocal stance on the international stage on tackling climate change, Bangladesh is aggressively turning towards coal. The Rampal and Orion coal plants are just two of at least a dozen planned coal plant projects around the country.

Hasina has pledged to increase Bangladesh’s coal power by 15,000 MW by 2030, raising Bangladesh’s percentage of coal power from 1% in 2010 to 50% by 2030. Currently, the country gets the bulk of its energy from natural gas.

Activists like Mizra have an uphill battle ahead of them. A long march against the Rampal coal plant three years ago – which attracted some 20,000 people – failed to dissuade the government. Construction on that project is expected to begin this year.


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