Best of our wild blogs: 4 Mar 16

Celebrate World Water Day with a mangrove cleanup @ Sungei Pandan, Sat 26 March 2016: 7.30am
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

In the pipeline – a partial closure of the Rail Corridor
The Long and Winding Road

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Singapore ready to deal with threat to corals

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Mar 15;

Safeguards targeting rarer coral species to be put in place if seas become too warm: NParks

Even though Singapore has lost over 60 per cent of its coral reefs through extensive land reclamation, its waters are still home to about a third of the world's hard coral species. But they could still be under threat - this time from warming seas as a result of climate change.

The National Parks Board (NParks) is ready to jump into action if sea surface temperatures creep up to a point that Singapore's corals are in danger of bleaching.

A coral safeguard programme targeting rarer coral species will be implemented, said Dr Karenne Tun, deputy director of the coastal and marine division at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

"We will collect fragments of these species from as many colonies as we can find, and grow them out in various reef areas as well as in aquaria, to ensure that we are able to maintain the population," she told The Straits Times. "We will also out-plant them back on the reefs after the bleaching event passes."

Meanwhile, NParks has initiated monitoring schemes to better understand how elevated sea surface temperatures may influence the photosynthetic responses of corals.

Coral reefs cover just 284,000 sq km of the ocean floor - about 0.1 per cent of the total ocean area - but they support a surprising amount of biodiversity. Around the world, these underwater palaces support about 30 per cent of all described marine species.

In Singapore waters, there are more than 250 species of hard corals. The total reef area here is an estimated 13.25 sq km.

But even as a global climate pact was forged in Paris last December, coral reefs worldwide are reeling from the impact of climate change.

Marine scientists say coral reefs are one of the habitats most under threat, due to the dual effects of ocean warming and ocean acidification. "Ocean warming is a direct impact of climate change that increases temperature stress on corals," said Dr Intan Suci Nurhati, a coral researcher from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

When carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, carbonic acid is formed. The increasing acidity will lead to higher rates of erosion of the physical structure of reefs, said Assistant Professor Huang Danwei, a marine biologist from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) department of biological sciences. Current and projected rates of global warming mean many stony corals will expel the symbiotic microalgae living within them and nourishing them, Prof Huang added. But expelling the algae causes coral bleaching.

In October last year, science journal Nature reported widespread coral bleaching. This caused the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to officially declare a global bleaching event on Oct 8, the third in recorded history, after 1998 and 2010.

These were El Nino years, referring to the phenomenon linked to prolonged warmer weather that is expected to continue this year as well, with scientists warning of bleaching events. In 1998, about 25 per cent of corals here died, while 5 per cent of them did so in 2010.

Prof Huang, who runs the Reef Ecology Lab at NUS, said coral reefs can protect shorelines and support recreation and tourism.

"The dive trail at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park attests to that. We have many more coral reefs that have the potential to become world-class dive sites, right in our backyard."

Viruses 'may be keeping coral reefs healthy'
Straits Times 4 Mar 16;

Coral reefs are one of the most vibrant and colourful habitats of the ocean, but the key to their health could lie in organisms not visible to the naked eye.

Microbial communities comprising viruses and bacteria could be the unlikely drivers of coral reef health, according to research by a marine biologist from Nanyang Technological University .

During a study of a pristine ring of coral in the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Associate Professor Federico Lauro found that the water within the coral ring contained more of a type of virus than the surrounding water, despite constant water exchange.

The Italian's research has indicated that it could be these viruses that are helping the coral reefs there to thrive.

Known as bacteriophages, the viruses can infect and break down a type of cyanobacteria - organisms that make their own food through photosynthesis - called Synechococcus. The destruction of Synechococcus releases nutrients such as nitrogen- and phosphorous-based compounds, which nourish the corals.

"Not all viruses are bad. Some of them are good and, in this case, they could play a role in cycling nutrients," said Prof Lauro.

"In a healthy human, there is a balance of the different types of microbes in the body, and it is the same for coral reefs."

The Chagos Archipelago is uninhabited except for military personnel, and is part of a marine protected area established by Britain. The water there is clean, and the coral reefs in the area are considered among the healthiest in the world.

Prof Lauro's research has wider implications for coral reef conservation, as scientists can now look beyond physical factors, such as sedimentation, to determine why reefs are dying and how to restore them.

"There is a clear indication that the viruses have an effect on the Chagos coral atoll, and it is interesting to study how biological factors are affecting other reefs," he said .

The research was conducted aboard his own recreational sailing boat, the 18.5m Indigo V. "This shows that you don't need a large oceanographic vessel to do good science, and a lot more ocean samples can be collected by recreational boat owners who are sailing the world in their own time," he said.

His study cost $70,000, a fraction of what a similar study on board a large oceanographic vessel with high-tech scientific devices could cost. For his work, he clinched the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award for Innovation in Conservation last November.

This is an international award which last year was given to explorers who exhibit excellence and innovation in conservation, with emphasis on emerging techniques and technologies. Past winners include Sir David Attenborough, the golden voice of nature documentaries, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, one of the first men to walk on the moon.

On his win, Prof Lauro said: "It was surprising, considering that the past winners like Sir David Attenborough are so good, but I hope that the win will help us get funding for the Indigo project, for more exciting science."

He is due to set off on another research trip to the Indian Ocean on board Indigo V later this month.

Assistant Professor Huang Danwei of the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences said: "The methods established (by Prof Lauro) also pave the way for a convenient approach for even non-scientists to contribute to the monitoring of various marine environments, including coral reefs, which have distinct microbial signatures."

Audrey Tan

Polluted waters: Corals fight back
Coral reefs are the world's underwater gardens and guardians of life. But, as oceans warm and become more acidic due to climate change, these important habitats are at risk. The good news is that nature is resilient. New scientific research has uncovered more information about coral reefs, which could help in their conservation. The Straits Times takes a look at the links between climate change and coral reefs.
Audrey Tan Straits Times 4 Mar 16;

Murky waters full of sediment may make it difficult for scuba divers to explore under water, but they have a far more ominous impact on marine life.

Corals, in particular, are exceptionally vulnerable. As well as grappling with the effects of climate change, sedimentation caused by land reclamation or pollution is also posing a challenge.

Sunlight does not penetrate sedimented waters as well as in clear waters. This affects the photosynthetic ability of the microalgae living in the coral to produce food, which nourishes the host.

High levels of sediment in the water can also physically smother corals and affect their reproduction.

Unlike broadcast-spawning coral species, which release male and female sex cells in a spectacular fashion, colouring the waters a milky white, brooding coral species establish new colonies in a less extravagant way.

The fertilised egg, or larva, is released into the water column and carried to another part of the ocean, where it starts developing new colonies. But sediment collecting in coral crevices could prevent the larva from being dislodged or hinder its development.

Nature, however, is resilient.

Scientists from the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) have discovered an encouraging adaptation in the native blue coral Heliopora coerulea that seems to help it thrive in sedimented waters.

During brooding, the female Heliopora coerulea holds a fertilised egg using feathery tentacles. The inflated tentacles help to elevate the larvae above the sediment layer that has accumulated on the colonies.

"The inflated polyps protrude from accumulated sediment in the colony crevices, thus raising the brooded larvae above the layers," said Dr Toh Tai Chong, 31, a research fellow at TMSI who led the project.

The discovery was recently published in science journal Marine And Freshwater Behavior And Physiology.

Dr Toh and Mr Lionel Ng, a research assistant at TMSI, were conducting coral reef surveys at the offshore islands south of Singapore in April 2014 as part of a study to assess the effectiveness of reef rehabilitation efforts here when they noticed a patch of white while swimming over some Heliopora coerulea corals.

"It looked like a dense white mat was laid over the corals," said Mr Ng, 32.

The researchers believe their findings could help with the conservation of Heliopora coerulea, which is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as being vulnerable to extinction.

"We have a lot more broadcast spawners than brooders, and little is known about the reproductive biology of Heliopora coerulea," said Dr Toh.

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that while three-quarters of stony corals are broadcast spawners, the remaining quarter of coral species are brooders.

"Since the Heliopora coerulea broods only once a year around April, this discovery enhances our existing knowledge on the biology of reef organisms, which could help us better manage the areas they are found in to reduce disturbance and further sedimentation during the reproductive season," said Mr Ng.

Dr Toh also pointed out that since sedimentation affects all types of coral, further research could look into the different adaptation strategies to improve our understanding of how Singapore's reefs remain resilient.

This also facilitates the conservation of more vulnerable species through measures such as artificial propagation to reduce the risks of local extinction.

Dr Karenne Tun, deputy director of the coastal and marine division at the National Parks Board's (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre, said coral reefs will ensure the availability of marine-based resources, such as food and breeding spaces, and continue to support the ecosystem's resilience to a changing climate.

"NParks continually works with various coral reef researchers (here) to increase our knowledge of Singapore's coral reefs and develop better management strategies of coral reefs through our targeted conservation programmes, such as the setting up of the coral nursery and the initiation of a coral bleaching monitoring programme."

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Cross Island Line Questions and Answers on 3 Mar 16;

Do we need the Cross Island Line? Can we do without it?

The Cross Island Line (CRL) will be an important part of our MRT network. It will provide a faster commute between the east and the west, from Changi to Jurong, stretching more than 50 km with about 30 stations. Nearly half of these stations will be interchange stations. Our preliminary estimate is that commuters from residential areas like Loyang, Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Sin Ming, Bukit Timah, Clementi and West Coast will make at least 600,000 trips on the CRL every day. This will place the CRL higher, in terms of capacity and usage, compared to the North East Line. The CRL will also significantly enhance the resilience of our network, as the CRL will connect with all radial lines to provide commuters with many more travel routes to their destinations.

Why can’t the government just go with the alignment that does not cut through the CCNR?

To make an informed decision on the alignment option that best serves the public, the Government has to understand the total impact of both alignments, including on transport connectivity, engineering feasibility, the CCNR and the environment, as well as the nearby homes and families. It is for this reason that LTA is conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, site investigation works, and an engineering feasibility study

The direct alignment is 4km long, with 2km of the tunnel running beneath the CCNR and the other 2km located outside it. As a shorter alignment, it will provide commuters faster East-West connectivity. The tunnels for the direct alignment will be about 40m deep and there will not be any construction of infrastructure on the surface within the CCNR. However, members of the public and nature groups have voiced concerns over the environmental impact of the direct alignment on the CCNR.

The skirting alignment, about 9km long, does not cross under the CCNR. However, the longer alignment will incur an additional travel time of six minutes for commuters crossing between the East and the West. It will also require longer tunnels and extra ventilation facilities. Besides land and home acquisitions that could affect families, the extra works could incur $2 billion more in expenditure.

What is an EIA? Is it a standard process as part of planning for all our MRT lines?

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) evaluates the possible impact of a proposed project on the environment. The EIA on the two possible CRL alignments assesses the impact to the ecology, geology and hydrology of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR).

Two years of planning, evaluation and consultation had been taken to develop the Phase 1 EIA report. An EIA of this scale is new for rail development and is necessary because the Government, too, cares about minimising the impact on the CCNR.

What is being done to mitigate the impact of site investigations?

Following extensive consultations with the nature groups for the first phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment, the site investigation to determine the geological properties of the ground, will adopt mitigating measures including reducing the number of boreholes within the gazetted boundary of the CCNR.

* First, only 16 boreholes will be drilled to extract vertical columns of soil samples, down from the earlier estimate of 72. These boreholes are 10cm in diameter and will be confined to public trails/existing clearings so as not to affect any vegetation. The drilling machines will also be modified to reduce the noise level and prevent spillage of slurry and fluid.
* Second, engineers will use non-intrusive geophysical survey methods.
* Imposing strict criteria to guide off-trail movements. The contractors will be supervised by NParks officers at all times.
* Avoiding ecologically sensitive areas such as streams, and swampy areas. For example, a 30m buffer zone is applied from these areas and no boreholes are allowed.
* All site investigation activities will also be restricted to daylight hours, so as not to affect nocturnal animals.
* With the mitigating measures, the number of machines and human movement within the reserve will be minimised.

Are the two proposed alignments for the Cross Island Line (CRL) running aboveground? Do you need to chop down any trees?

No. Both proposed options are underground and any tunnels beneath the CCNR will be located deep below the nature reserve at about 40m (equivalent to 12 storeys). There is no need to remove any vegetation for the site investigation works.

In addition, there will not be any construction work on the surface level within the gazetted boundary of CCNR. For both options, construction will be undertaken by tunnelling method using a Tunnel Boring Machine that starts from outside the nature reserve (see diagram below).

Tunnelling starts and ends outside the CCNR.Tunnelling starts and ends outside the CCNR.

Similarly, the ventilation shafts or facility buildings will be sited outside the gazetted boundary of CCNR.

Is the EIA report available online for public viewing? How can I give my views?

The first phase of the EIA report for the CRL is available on the LTA website for public viewing. Members of the public can email their views to

What was the consultation process like?

When LTA first announced the possible alignment of the CRL in 2013, nature groups raised concerns about the potential environmental impact on the CCNR. In response, LTA formed a working group, including representatives from NParks and nature groups, to serve as a discussion/consultation forum for the EIA study in the CCNR for the proposed Cross Island Line.

Since 2013, MOT, LTA and the nature groups have held many formal and informal meetings, including walkabouts in the CCNR with Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo.

Over the course of more than two years, LTA consulted the nature groups extensively in preparing for Phase 1 of the EIA report. For example, when studying the impact of the proposed site investigation works on the ecology and biodiversity of the CCNR, LTA’s EIA consultant took into consideration a study that the nature groups had done.

Separately, some residents living near the CCNR have expressed concern that the possible alignments may affect their homes. LTA has been engaging them by keeping them informed about the CRL study as well.

LTA will continue its engagement with stakeholders including the nature groups and residents in the area.

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

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Cross Island Line: All sides must keep an open mind

Christopher Tan Straits Times 4 Mar 16; and on AsiaOne

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament on Monday that Singaporeans should "keep an open mind" on the Cross Island Line's alignment.

He said a decision will take into account "potential impact on the nature reserve, the travelling distance and time for commuters, the cost to taxpayers, and the potential acquisition of homes and businesses".

"Go with the facts... and look for the evidence," he said.

It is sound advice, one which both proponents and opponents of the original alignment of the new MRT line should heed.

Expected to be completed in 2030, the 50km fully underground Cross Island Line goes from Changi, through Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Timah and West Coast, to Jurong Industrial Estate. Its proposed original alignment cuts through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

A recently completed environmental impact assessment expects site works will have a "moderate" impact on the gazetted nature reserve, despite the fact that the train tunnels themselves would run 40m or 12 storeys below the surface.

That is not good news to those who believe the reserve should be protected at all cost.

While various government agencies and ministries have come out to assure that works such as soil investigation will be mitigated and monitored closely, it behooves the authorities to make a case on why they feel so strongly about going beneath the reserve in the first place.

Up till now, no one in Government has acknowledged the slightest advantage of the Nature Society's proposed alternative, which skirts the southern fringe of the reserve.

Instead, the authorities have focused on the disadvantages. These include additional cost, a longer route and therefore additional travelling time, and the possible acquisition of homes - never mind that cost and travelling time are relative to the length and coverage of any mass transit project. That is to say, if you wanted to save more money and more time, go for an even shorter and straighter alignment that possibly misses even more populated areas.

As for land acquisition, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has managed to build Singapore's rail network of around 180km in the last three decades with minimal acquisition of private property.

Even in densely built-up areas such as Chinatown, Bras Basah, Holland Village and Serangoon, the streetscape is left admirably intact. More often than not, it is state land that is acquired before private land.

It has been able to do this by safeguarding land along planned lines way ahead of time, and running the lines largely along road reserves. The Government has said that it cannot do this with the Nature Society's proposal because of its proximity to the Thomson-East Coast line.

That may well be the case.

Still, we have had lines that are very close together, such as the North-South and East-West lines at Raffles Place and City Hall, and the Circle and Downtown lines between Promenade and Bayfront.

The Transport Ministry has also admitted that it is good to have some redundancy in the system, so that when one line breaks down, commuters have an accessible alternative. Several neighbourhoods are served by more than one MRT station, such as Little India, Serangoon, Chinatown and Outram.

In Marina Bay, no fewer than six stations on four MRT lines will converge in an area no bigger than Sengkang. Everyone who lives or works there will be able to get to a station within five minutes.

Granted, the Thomson-Lornie area is no Marina Bay. But this shows that if there is a will, there is a way.

The Nature Society's skirting proposal - imperfect as it may be - allows the line to serve developments along Thomson, Lornie and Adam roads, not to mention the massive future Bukit Brown housing estate.

Straits Times reader Dennis Chan also points out that the alignment of the line could be reconfigured so that it serves areas such as Balestier, eastern Toa Payoh and Serangoon Gardens, which are currently not served by the MRT.

Either option will be preferable to the original from a transport viewpoint. In fact, any alignment along a populated area would be superior to one that traverses an unpopulated area.

And if the Government's aim is to have 80 per cent of homes within a 10-minute walk of an MRT station, realigning the Cross Island Line to serve new areas is imperative. It makes little sense to build a line under a forested area - much less one that is protected by law - unless there is truly no other alternative.

And so far, the Government has not made such a case.

In addition, trains running beneath the reserve might pose safety concerns. The LTA has said that the stretch across the nature reserve will have no surface structures.

This means that if a train stalls along this stretch, commuters may have to get out and walk 1km or more to the nearest station. In such an unfamiliar environment, with sub-optimal lighting, a crowd in excess of 1,000 - a six-car train accommodates around 1,400 - might take 30 minutes or more to cover that distance. And should there be a fire, the consequences would be unthinkable.

To be fair, Mr Khaw has said that more studies are needed on the environmental and engineering impact of the line. Public consultations will also be conducted.

The first environmental impact assessment took two years. It may thus take two years or more to complete another environmental impact assessment, on top of technical studies, to reach a decision, Mr Khaw said.

In the interim, members of the public and activist groups should do as Mr Khaw advised - keep an open mind.

Equally important, government officials would have to do likewise.

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

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Cross Island Line issue highlights need for more debate on environmental decisions


The proposal to construct the Cross Island Line (CRL) under a part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR), Singapore’s largest nature reserve and home to its four reservoirs and hundreds of animal and plant species, is the latest example of environmental conflict in Singapore.

After the announcement of the CRL in 2013, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) commissioned a two-phase environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. Phase I, which is now complete, assesses the impact of site investigation work required to determine the feasibility of various route alignments. Phase II, scheduled to be completed at the end of the year, will assess the impact of tunnel construction.

In Parliament on Monday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan urged Singaporeans to “keep an open mind, go with the facts … and look for the evidence” as authorities mull over a host of factors before deciding on the CRL alignment. Many members of the public have jumped in on the debate surrounding the CRL through letters to the press, online articles and social media posts.

This issue has raised questions about environmental governance, decision-making and the meaning of nature reserves in Singapore.


The LTA’s commendable decision to put the 1,000-page Phase I EIA report online for greater public accessibility is an unprecedented step forward for environmental governance in Singapore. This should be the standard practice for all future EIA reports.

However, there needs to be greater transparency in Singapore’s environmental decision-making processes.

First, impact assessments are the exception, rather than the norm.

Singapore has long resisted calls for an open, mandatory form of EIA to be legislated. Environmental impact is usually assessed internally by relevant government agencies and is often unavailable for public scrutiny. While considered more efficient, this approach reduces opportunities for nurturing talent and developing environmental expertise in the private sector. In addition, it precludes voluntary engagement by potential stakeholders.

The Phase I report for the CRL EIA actually does a commendable job in outlining potential impact on flora and fauna, and laying out a comprehensive list of strategies aimed at mitigating damage. It was conducted by an environmental consultancy firm and incorporated inputs from the Nature Society (Singapore).

Improving on this as a blueprint and developing it into a consistent framework would instil greater public confidence in the process and the quality of environmental decisions.

Second, one area to improve is the lack of proper definitions and clear guidelines on how the information in an assessment is used to decide whether work should proceed.

In spite of the impressive list of strategies, the EIA concluded that work would have “moderate” impact even after mitigation.

The parameters for making the decision on whether or not to proceed with site investigation given the hierarchy of impact categories were not explicitly set out. Should work proceed only if the impacts are minor or can it proceed even if they are moderate?

Another key issue is that “moderate” impact is defined as one that has not breached a legal or “acceptable limit” or has been reduced to a level that is “as low as reasonably practicable”.

Since there is no established legal upper limit for impacts to biodiversity in Singapore, it would be impossible to evaluate whether an impact is beyond moderate. For example, while there are legal limits on environmental noise levels for humans, these cannot reasonably be applied for non-humans.

The rotary coring of boreholes generates extreme levels of noise, but the EIA report states that little is known about the impact of noise on wildlife. Therefore, what is an acceptable limit is also undefined. Further, what is practicable may still be ecologically damaging.

The Precautionary Principle underpins the science of conservation. It means to err to the side of caution when we have imperfect information. Going by the principle, any impact beyond the natural fluctuation in baseline levels experienced by wildlife on a normal day should be avoided. Given the status of the CCNR as a nature reserve, the principle should be applied.


Third, there needs to be more debate over the significance of nature reserves in Singapore.

Protected areas form the foundation of global efforts for keeping the world’s diverse ecosystems intact and for preventing species extinctions. However, these tend to be at odds with economic interests such as infrastructure-building and resource exploration. For example, the Tanzanian government revealed plans to build an expressway through the Serengeti National Park. Ecuador recently issued permits for oil exploration in the Yasuni National Park.

The CCNR is one of four nature reserves in Singapore. Although small in area, our nature reserves are rich in biodiversity and they contribute to the global network of protected areas.

In Singapore, nature reserves and national parks are land areas that are accorded the highest level of protection. However, for nature reserves, this protection has been challenged and ceded more than once since our independence as a nation. Pandan Nature Reserve was degazetted in 1968, while the Labrador Nature Reserve was downgraded to a nature park before being reinstated in 2002.

There are other nature areas in Singapore aside from the nature reserves. As a result of an increasing appreciation of nature, parks such as Springleaf Nature Park, Coney Island Park and, most recently, the Kranji Marshes have been established. The official stance is heartening: To keep these undisturbed for as long as possible.

But if activities with a moderate level of impact are still allowed to be carried out in nature reserves, what precedent does it set for our nature areas? In our early days as a nation, we could argue that the economic stakes were high; today, we should be in a better position to confer a suitable level of protection for the places that we accord the status of a nature reserve.

The debate over the route alignment of the CRL is the latest incident that has forced us to confront the way we make environmental decisions in Singapore. With the dwindling of natural vegetation in Singapore over the years, the sooner we have these debates, the better.


Chong Kwek Yan is an National University of Singapore overseas postdoctoral fellow currently based at the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, University of Queensland. Giam Xingli is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Washington.

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

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Malaysia: Our coral reefs in hot water due to El Nino

JOASH EE DE SILVA The Star 4 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is facing the largest loss of its coral reef population in history with the waters around the country getting warmer from next month.

Universiti Malaya coral reef ecologist Affendi Yang Amri said climate change coupled with a strong El Nino could threaten up to 90% of the country’s coral reefs.

Affendi said that sea temperatures could rise 2°C above the threshold of the corals, stressing them.

“Usually if waters are at or above 31.5°C for two weeks, they will start to bleach,” said Affendi.

He said the rise in temperature causes the breakdown of the symbiosis between the corals and their zooxanthellae (symbiotic algae).

It is the zooxanthellae which gives the corals their colour and is also the corals’ main provider of food.

Affendi added that bleaching occurs when the corals expulse the zooxanthellae, leaving the animal tissue exposed and making its white skeleton visible.

“Corals get 90% of their food from the algae. So when the algae is expulsed, the corals begin to starve,” he said.

He said that when bleached and the water temperature does not drop to 30°C or lower for another three weeks, the corals will start to die.

“The year 2010 saw the last big El Nino and many corals in Malaysia bleached and about 30% died, but we are afraid this year could be more severe.

“The warm temperature could remain for many months.

“It may be even worse than the biggest El Nino ever recorded in 1998 where 80% of the reefs in Maldives died.”

According to Reef Check Malaysia, 40% of the reefs in peninsular Malaysia died in 1998.

Affendi is now hoping that it won’t be as bad, and that at most, only 30% of the reefs would die. But the worst case scenario could see 90% of the reefs destroyed.

He said very little can be done at the moment to reduce the global stress on corals by El Nino and climate change, but steps can be taken to minimise local stress to give the corals a better chance of survival.

Local stresses include water pollution, plastic trash, coastal developments, sedimentation, sewage water, long fishing nets, fish bombing, physical contact from snorkelers and divers and etc.

“Zones with diverse and rare corals need to be prioritised as you want to minimise human contact in those areas,” said Affendi.

“Those who take tourists diving or snorkelling must also remind them not to touch or kick the corals.

“When you know that warmer waters are about to hit, there should be no boats passing through those areas, no divers and snorkelers for a few weeks until the warm period passes.”

But Affendi stressed that everything cannot be closed as that would jeopardise the livelihood of people like fishermen.

He also added that island resorts needed to step up on their sewage treatment systems as these were poor or non-existent and most of the sewage ended up in the ocean, damaging the corals.

Commercial fish population under threat if corals die
The Star 4 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: There will be fewer fish on the table if the heatwave leads to the high death toll of coral reefs.

Many commercial fishes like groupers, snappers, emperors, sweet lips and fusiliers will die in their juvenile stages if the corals die, said Universiti Malaysia Terengganu coral reef ecologist (specialising in coral fish) Yusri Yusuf.

“A lot of these fish in their juvenile stage hide in these corals,” said Yusri.

“If a lot of the corals die and crumble, the fishes will be exposed to predators and will die young.

“The population of fish ready for consumption will be affected and we will feel the shortage,” he said.

Universiti Malaya coral reef ecologist Affendi Yang Amri said coral reefs mostly grew along the coast where there were shallow waters and if they died, it would mean the loss of coastal protection.

He said the hard structures of the corals protected the coastal lines by breaking strong sea waves and currents before they hit the shore.

“When they die and crumble, the waves will hit the coastal areas much harder and more frequently, the coasts will erode and many resorts will be flooded,” said Affendi.

“The Government may have to spend millions to build artificial breakwaters.”

He added that the loss of coral reefs would also affect tourism as there would be no corals to see when tourists go diving and snorkelling.

Warmer waters until September if La Nina hits
The Star 4 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: Warmer waters will persist from next month to September if the current El Nino phenomenon is followed by La Nina.

La Nina is the condition where the central-eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is cooler than normal whereas El Nino is a warmer than normal condition in that region.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia climatologist and oceanographer Prof Dr Fredolin Tangang said there is a 50% likelihood that La Nina will occur.

Dr Tangang said the current El Nino has made waters warmer by 1°C in South-East Asian seas since October last year and this is expected to continue until May or June.

“April, May and June are crucial months for the corals because that is when the ocean surface temperature is higher and additional warming may exceed the threshold temperature for corals,” said Dr Tangang.

“During El Nino, winds over the region tend to be weaker and it is less cloudy, which increases the solar radiation absorbed by the surface.”

“Weaker winds also means less heat is extracted from the surface of the sea, causing heat to stay on the sea surface.”

He said that the water temperature around this region will likely return to normal if there is no La Nina.

But should La Nina happen in the Pacific after El Nino dies out, Dr Tangang said the warmer weather conditions will persist longer than usual in South-East Asian seas, until September or even October.

This increases the possibility of coral bleaching and dying.

Dr Tangang said this was what happened during the 1987/88 El Nino followed by 1989 La Nina and the 1997/98 El Nino which was followed by 1999 La Nina.

According to Prof Tangang, this year’s El Nino is considered a strong one but weaker than the one in 1997/98.

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Malaysia: Stop online trade of wildlife

ERNAMA New Straits Times 4 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar today urged the public to stop illegal online trading of wildlife as it is highly threatened by the new trend.

He said with cyberspace as the market, anyone could fall for the scams created by unscrupulous individuals and groups looking to make fast money from selling rare and exotic animals which were not found in pet shops.

“I would like to make a plea to the Malaysian public to stop buying and selling wildlife illegally. “Do not be one who contributes towards the extinction of wildlife in our country, rather be one who contributes towards its protection in its own habitat,” he said in a statement today.

The statement was issued in conjunction with World Wildlife Day, celebrated yesterday.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “The Future of Wildlife Is In Our Hands.” Wan Junaidi said the authorities had stepped up cybercrime surveillance and managed to nab several individuals who were involved in illegal wildlife trade on the social media.

“And it is sad to know that many of them are youth of young age,” he added.

The minister said the ministry also looked forward to having more experience with building and maintaining viaducts as safe crossings for wildlife, especially with the unprecedented events of the deaths of tigers this year due to poaching and a road accident, as well as the increasing rate of roadkills involving other wildlife species.

“Such structures help to maintain connectivity between habitats and ensure that natural corridors are available for large mammals to move as they search for food and shelter.

“Habitat loss and degradation are major causes of wildlife population decline,” said Wan Junaidi.

Furthermore, he said, Malaysia had renewed its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where there were goals to end poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking last year.

“The government has put in place several policies and plans related to the protection and conservation of wildlife and its habitats, including the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan (NTAP), National Elephant Conservation Action Plan (NECAP), Central Forest Spine Master Plan for Ecological Linkages, as well as the recently launched new National Biodiversity Policy,” he said. --BERNAMA

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Malaysia: Dengue situation expected to be worse this year -- Health Minister

The Star 3 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The dengue situation in the country is predicted to be worse this year compared with last year, following the 26,533 cases reported from January until March 2.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the figure showed an increase of over 1,500 compared with 25,028 cases over the same period last year.

"So far, there were 55 deaths recorded nationwide this year compared to 65 over the same period last year with over 2,800 new dengue cases reported each week throughout the country," he said Thursday.

Earlier, he launched the Mobile iDengue application, the result of a collaboration between the Health Ministry and Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, which was represented by its minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau at the launch.

Dr Subramaniam said the expected rise in dengue cases was due to certain factors including cleanliness level of the environment, unscheduled garbage collection and irresponsible public attitude, apart from Aedes mosquitoes being the main vector for the dengue outbreak.

"The Mobile iDengue application is an easy and fast method of delivering accurate information on the dengue situation," he said.

Dr Subramaniam said Selangor recorded the highest number of new dengue cases at 13,306 or 70 per cent of the total number nationwide, due to factors such as population density and type of human settlements in the state.

According to a statement from the Health Ministry, Selangor recorded 18 deaths from dengue, Penang and Terengganu (9 each), Negri Sembilan (5), Johor and Sarawak (3 each), Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya (2), Pahang (2), and Kedah, Malacca, Kelantan and Sabah (one each).

In another development, Dr Subramaniam said the case of fried noodles containing glass shards which caused several students to fall ill, would be ready in three weeks.

Last Sunday, it was reported that seven pupils of Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil Ladang Nigel Gardner, Hulu Selangor were admitted to Sungai Buloh Hospital on Friday after eating their breakfast of fried mee hoon provided under the Supplementary Food Programme. - Bernama

Selangor records highest number of dengue cases
The Star 4 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Selangor has the highest number of dengue cases this year, with 13,306 between January and March 2.

Of the 55 dengue-linked deaths recorded nationwide within the same period, 18 were from Selangor, which has the highest fatality number among the states.

In the latest statistics released by the Health Ministry, Johor recorded the second highest cases with 3,966 while Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya had a total of 1,770. Penang had 1,247 cases, followed by Terengganu (1,140), Perak (1,031), Sabah (858), Negri Sembilan (732), Pahang (678), Malacca (574), Kelantan (555), Sarawak (418), Kedah (196), Perlis (60) and Labuan (two).

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam cautioned this could be the worst year of the dengue epidemic, as indicated by the statistics.

“Last year was said to be the biggest dengue epidemic in history. But 2016 could be the biggest (epidemic),” he said at the launch of the iDengue mobile app here yesterday.

In total, 26,533 dengue cases were recorded nationwide between January and March 2, an increase of 1,505 cases compared with last year’s 25,028 cases over the same period.

He said several factors, including the environment, cleanliness and climate change, were causing the surge in dengue cases,

In Selangor, he said population density and type of housing could also play a factor.

“There were places where garbage collection was not carried out regularly.

“Residents also lack responsibility.

“There is a culture of throwing trash everywhere,” he added.

According to the statistics, Negri Sembilan, Johor and Terengganu had sharp spikes in cases.

Negri Sembilan recorded 732 cases so far this tear, compared with 383 last year.

Terengganu had 1,140 this year (335), and Johor recorded 3,966 (1,308).

The iDengue app is aimed at delivering the latest information on dengue to the public, including a map showing the location of dengue hotspots.

Information on the app is on real-time basis and synced with the Health Ministry’s iDengue website, a portal dedicated to providing information on dengue.

“With the app, people can take precautions to protect themselves and their families, and create a higher awareness level.

“This is an empowerment to the public on a wider scale. I hope Malaysians will download the free app on their phones,” Dr Subramaniam added.

The iDengue mobile app is available for Android and iOS devices.

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Indonesia: Government empowering community to prevent forest fires

Antara 3 Mar 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government is empowering the rural community to prevent forest fires, Chairman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei stated.

"In this case, the community is a section of the society that will take early action in any disaster," he stated while speaking at a press conference on "The Latest Disaster Mitigation Efforts" held here on Wednesday.

In fire-prone regions, the rural community must be actively involved in preventing the outbreak of fires.

To this end, the government will improve their organizational capability, increase their awareness of disaster risks, and strengthen their capability in preventing forest fires.

"Besides this, control commands will be developed at the rural to national level, so that the preventive efforts undertaken by the community would be well-planned, coordinated, integrated, and measurable," he emphasized.

The concept is being developed based on experiences in empowering rural communities by the regional governments, NGOs, and companies, he explained.

Parts of Indonesia are still reeling under the impacts of the El Nino natural phenomenon, which poses high risks of disaster, he added.

He noted that the agency had currently outlined priorities, including the mitigation efforts to tackle landslides, forest fires, and the Sinabung volcanic eruption.

The agency chief remarked that floods and landslides had hit 260 districts and municipalities in the country from January 1 to February 25, leaving 46 people dead and 16 others injured.

The natural disasters also forced the evacuation of 1,083,104 people, Rampangilei added.(*)

W Kalimantan Governor launches fire alertness village program
Antara 4 Mar 16;

Ketapang, W Kalimantan, March 4 (ANTARA News) - West Kalimantan Governor Cornelis launched a Fire Alertness Village program in Sungai Kelik village, Nanga Tayap sub-district of Ketapang on Thursday to prevent land and forest fires in the province.

"This is a way to prevent any further hazards due to the haze arising from fires in future by launching a fire alertness village program in Nanga Tayap," Cornelis stated after the launch of the program here on Thursday.

To support its performance, we must build several water reservoirs or canals to supply water to extinguish the fire.

Cornelis suggested that all parties need to preserve and maintain the forests as part of the anticipatory measures to counter the extreme climatic variations.

"Meanwhile, plantation owners are obliged to protect their areas from fire similar to what was done by Sinarmas, so we laud this practice, and it should be followed by the other palm oil plantation owners," Cornelis affirmed.

Meanwhile, CEO of PT Smart Tbk plantation for Kalimantan area Susanto noted that to face the 2016 drought, PT SMART Tbk, a subsidiary of Golden-Agri Resources (GAR), had launched the Fire Alertness Village program for empowering the local communities on ways to prevent fires with the full support of the local governments and other institutions.

Susanto also remarked that as part of the first phase, the program will be implemented in eight villages in Nanga Tayap sub-district, while the program will be carried out in nine other villages in Jambi province in April 2016.

Everyone needs to understand the hazards of land and forest fires, especially for women, children, and the elderly, and therefore, the involvement of the community is crucial as the people can be protected through early detection and fire management by taking immediate action.

"The program is planned to be implemented for a period of three years, which will be supported by information dissemination activities in the community and will be evaluated every year by the local governments and other relevant institutions to ensure its effectiveness as a manifestation of our support to the governments program to make Indonesia free from land and forest fires," Susanto emphasized.

Through the Fire Alertness Village program, the villagers will be trained and provided fire extinguishing tools. Moreover, incentives through the companys Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fund will also be given to the village that implemented the best forest fire prevention measures.

As many as 15 villagers from the eight listed villages will be selected and trained as volunteers for the program.

All volunteers will be trained and supported in monitoring fires effectively and delivering information quickly to the response team, either by electronic mail or short messages via mobile phones.

The monitoring of hotspots is also done through the use of drones, and a satellite-based hotspot monitoring system will also used to forward the hotspot data analysis result to every fire alertness village command post.

In addition, monitoring activities will also include the use of participatory mapping techniques, and the communities will be encouraged to actively map out their village boundaries and plan the use of land in their territories.

This map will help people to clearly demarcate the duties and responsibilities in preventing and handling fires at the village and inter-village level, Susanto noted.

The Fire Alertness Village program also offers alternative solutions to plantation owners without the need to set fire to the area, including providing agricultural training in the communal plantation area agreed by the community, using environmentally friendly fertilizers, and improving water management, among others.

Besides launching the Fire Alertness Village program, PT SMART Tbk has also prepared emergency response personnel, more than 20 types of firefighting equipment, and several medical personnel, Susanto noted.

Ketapang sub-district chief Martin Rantan stated that the Ketapang district government was committed to preventing land and forest fires, and hence, each village has been urged to ready fire extinguishing tools using the village allocation fund.

"We will appoint a village team leader, and there are shared concerns that the efforts to prevent forest fires will be more effective in the dry season. Hopefully, in 2016, no more hotspots will be detected in Ketapang with the implementation of the Fire Alertness Village program," Martin added.

Reporting by Andi Lala

Sinar Mas's Smart to Boost Fire Safety in Neighboring Villages
Dion Bisara Jakarta Globe 4 Mar 16;

Jakarta. Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology, or Smart, a palm oil producer controlled by conglomerate Sinar Mas Group, has launched its own community development program to keep residential areas around its plantation fire-free during the dry season.

Under the program, the company will provide residents of eight villages in Ketapang, West Kalimantan, with training, facilities and equipment for extinguishing fires.

"Community engagement is vital because it can prevent fires, detect them early and [train villagers to] respond to land and forest fires quickly,” Susanto Yang, chief executive of Sinar Mas Plantation for West Kalimantan, said in a statement on Thursday (03/03).

Nine more villages in Jambi will join the program in April, he said, adding that residents will also receive assistance from Smart to clear land without burning the vegetation, he said.

Susanto underlined that Smart was committed to grant villages showing success in reducing or eliminating fire with the infrastructure development of their choosing.

Smart is following in the footsteps of similar program implemented by pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings in Riau since 2014.

Sinar Mas Group came under scrutiny for massive forest fires that crippled part of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Singapore with thick haze from July to November last year.

One of the group's companies, Bumi Mekar Hijau, prevailed in a Rp 7.8 trillion ($570 million) lawsuit at the Palembang District Court brought on by Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry, which had accused the company of using slash and burn clearing practices. The government is seeking to appeal against the decision.

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Indonesia: Poaching on the rise in Mt. Leuser National Park

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 4 Mar 16;

Efforts to stop the illegal hunting of wild, protected animals in Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) straddling the border of North Sumatra and Aceh provinces, are failing as a result of a lack of patrolling.

Head of the TNGL center, Andi Basrul, said the actions the center had taken against poachers were unsuccessful in protecting the forest and its biodiversity as poaching activities in the TNGL had continued to increase.

He said that in the last two months alone his office had arrested 15 people for illegally hunting animals in the tropical rainforest, while last year a total of 20 poachers were arrested.

“This indicates that there is an increase in poaching activity in the park,” Andi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Andi said forest rangers did not conduct patrols inside the national park area for fear of physical clashes with poachers. He said the poachers had equipped themselves with weapons to fight back against law enforcers.

Thus, his team only monitors the movements of the poachers from outside the forest. “We promptly arrest anyone found coming out of the national park,” Andi said.

He said the strategy allowed the authorities to deal with the poachers without engaging in physical conflict that could result in the agency being accused of violating human rights.

The park is home to some 4,000 animal species, many of which are protected animals such as Sumatran tigers, orangutans, elephants and rhinoceri, all of which are hunted by the poachers.

The local forestry and horticulture agency estimates that the population of Sumatran tigers in the park is now only around 400 or 500, Sumatran elephants 2,000, rhinos 230 and orangutans 6,624.

The decreasing populations of those animals had prompted poachers to hunt other species, such as helmeted hornbill, or rangkong gading and magpies. “This week, we seized 15 magpies from eight poachers that we nabbed in the Tenggulun resort area in the park,” Andi said.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researcher Wulan Pusparini, said that apart from local poachers, foreign poachers had also been targeting a number of animals in the park, especially the rare Sumatran rhinos.

She said that most of these poachers were from Vietnam and had hunted for a long time in Africa, and mostly hunted Sumatran rhinos for their horns. “They are looking to sell the horns on the international market,” Wulan said, adding that the horns were much sought after by customers in Vietnam and China to be made into traditional medicines.

The prices are much higher than that for African rhino horns, which are priced at Rp 15 million (US$1,136) per gram.

“The population of Sumatran rhinos across Indonesia is only 100, in 1814, there were over 10,000,” Wulan said. She said the remaining rhino population could be found in Way Kambas National Park and in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra.

According to Forestry Ministry data, in 1997 TNGL covered an area of 1,095,592 hectares. By 2014, however, the area had decreased to 800,000 ha.

Of the remaining area, according to data at the directorate general of forestry and environment law enforcement, 40,000 ha, 30,000 ha of which are in Langkat regency, have been felled or damaged by illegal loggers.

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