Best of our wild blogs: 6 Mar 16

Fri 11 Mar 2016: 4.00pm – Dan Friess – “What’s driving mangrove deforestation in Southeast Asia?”
The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Singapore's Long-Tailed Hairstreaks 2
Butterflies of Singapore

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Six minutes to save Singapore’s environment

Surekha A. Yadav Malay Mail Online 6 Mar 16;
Born and bred in Singapore, Surekha A. Yadav is a freelance journalist in Southeast Asia.

MARCH 6 — Six minutes. What can you accomplish in six minutes? It often takes me longer to brush my teeth in the mornings or on some days to even clamber out of bed. How much is saving six minutes a day worth?

If you’re paid somewhere around Singapore’s median salary of S$3,000-4,000 (RM8,865-11,819) per month then the answer is six minutes is worth around S$2 (RM5.90) as your hourly rate of pay works out in the vicinity of S$20 (RM59), though that doesn’t take into account deductions.

I guess it is relative. Some people are happy to pay a little extra to disembark first on a budget flight, others are willing to splurge on a private clinic over the government polyclinic because they can’t stand the wait.

Whatever six minutes is worth to you, I don’t think it is worth risking the biodiversity of Singapore’s Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR).

Basically as our city state sets up its 50km Cross Island Line (CRL), an ambitious project to improve connectivity between the island’s east and west, planners face a major dilemma.

Commuters exit and enter a subway train at the Raffles Place Mass Rapit Transport station in Singapore. — Picture from AFP
Commuters exit and enter a subway train at the Raffles Place Mass Rapit Transport station in Singapore. — Picture from AFP
One proposed route for the line (the shortest and most direct) will take it through the CCNR — the largest nature reserve in Singapore.

The second route will skirt the reserve. This means no drilling and digging will take place in one of the last pockets in Singapore that remains a habitat for the branded leaf monkey, the sunda pangolin and the pleasingly named slow loris, among hundreds of other species.

But the second longer route will add 5km and six minutes to the journey and herein lies the problem. While there is a lot of talk surrounding the importance of nature and biodiversity, are we really willing to wait six minutes a day for a bunch of lorises and monkeys?

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan seems quite certain we aren’t. In response to a question about the two proposed alignments he answered: “I’m not sure if we can brush aside extra six minutes just like that because for MRT commuters, extra half a minute is terrible,” Khaw said on behalf of commuters everywhere.

“Because when the train has a disruption and there’s an extra minute of delay, within that minute (commuters) send out maybe 100 tweets to flame LTA or SMRT,” he said.

I am mostly amused by this train of thought. If a journey takes 26 minutes, it takes 26 minutes. You set out from home knowing it takes 26 minutes. This is not a disruption; unlike a delay which is unexpected and unplanned and hence the “flaming.”

To me, the implied sentiment is Singaporeans want efficiency at all costs but I don’t agree and I am heartened by the pushback online. There has actually been considerable opposition to the plan to cut through the island’s green heart.

While I don’t doubt the importance of the rail project — strengthening east-west linkages is a very legitimate priority — it does not trump our need to protect the fragile balance of life on what is barely a speck on the world map.

From the perspective of the planners and various authorities that must approve a project on this scale, why would a few angry tweets really matter more than a sustainable alternative? As a nation, one of our defining values has been a commitment to striking a balance between rapid development and enlightened urban planning that has respected our green spaces.

Singapore is not just an economic success. It’s a green and well-planned economic success — a garden city among Asia’s countless smog-infused concrete jungles.

This is part of our national brand and even our national heritage and if the ethos of staying green does not persuade you there is also the simple fact six minutes is not that long. As the online news portal, points out in their list: 13 things that prove Singaporeans can and do often wait longer than six minutes for.

My favourites on that list being: CPF withdrawal — definitely longer than six minutes and the fact that during last year’s massive train breakdown, Singaporeans waited 3.5 hours for train services on the NSEWL to resume.

Sure, we complained a lot, and people probably sent “hundreds of tweets”, but to be fair, 3.5 hours is 210 minutes, which is definitely a lot longer than six and remember, that’s an unplanned delay — that is a disruption.

The point is as long as the trains are comfortable and run on time so I can plan my journey and my day, I will manage easily whether it takes 20 minutes or 26. Besides, we will spend the extra time just staring at our phones anyway but if those few more minutes on Facebook mean the slow lorises can keep being slow without having to worry if the next train is going to shake them off their trees, I think that is time well-spent.

I think (and hope) most other Singaporeans would not mind doing the same.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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

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Over 300 youths help conserve the environment at Pulau Ubin, Coney Island

Today Online 5 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE – To commemorate the first death anniversary of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and to honour his legacy of a clean and green Singapore, more than 300 young people took part in various environmental conservation initiatives at Pulau Ubin and Coney Island on Saturday (March 5) morning.

The participants, aged between 13 and 35, kept busy with activities such as reforestation, coastal and swamp cleanup, invasive weed clearing, flotsam fence maintenance, species survey and bird box construction. A total of 40 saplings were planted and 13 bird boxes were built during the Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) Project IsLand-A-Hand event, said OBS and the National Youth Council in a joint press release.

This is the second time OBS has organised this large-scale conservation activity.

The youths also took part in a SGfuture engagement session, where they contributed ideas on how to promote greater environmental consciousness, responsibility and stewardship. For instance, they suggested encouraging schools to engage students in a more extensive discussion of green initiatives and supporting more environmental ground-up initiatives from youths.

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Green Corridor Run: Participants race down Rail Corridor for the last time

The last edition of the Green Corridor Run kicked off on Sunday morning (Mar 6), with about 11,000 participants taking part in the race.
Channel NewsAsia 6 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: About 11,000 participants on Sunday (Mar 6) morning raced down the Rail Corridor for the last edition of the Green Corridor Run.

The run, which started at the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and ended at the old Bukit Timah Railway Station, covered a 10.5km stretch of greenery and woodlands.

Part of the Rail Corridor will be closed for the construction of the 22km-long Murnane pipeline, which will meet future demand for water in the city area. The demand for water is projected to increase from about 39 million gallons per day now, to about 60 million gallons per day by by 2060.

After the pipeline is completed, the surface of the trail will remain as a space for public recreational use, according to the Green Corridor Run’s website.

Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor flagged off the event, and took part in the race.

The marathon was held in conjunction with Singapore World Water Day celebrations.

The route was previously part of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu rail network. The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been preserved as a national monument, while the Bukit Timah Railway Station has been conserved.

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Malaysia: Dive marshals to protect Sipadan reefs

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 6 Mar 16;

SEMPORNA: Four dive marshals of world-renowned diving haven of Pulau Sipadan have become Malaysia’s first underwater enfor­cers.

The four, who are from Sabah Parks, have been tasked to ensure divers do not destroy or damage the rich coral at the mushroom-shaped Sipadan, the country’s only oceanic island.

Tourism, Culture and Environ­ment permanent secretary Datuk Giunun Yangus, who announced this, said the presence of dive marshals would enhance the protection of the natural undersea environment.

“They will be like undersea policemen who will act against divers trampling or destroying coral. It is a major step forward. In due time there will be more dive marshals,” he said at the official launch of the gazetting of Sipadan waters as a Sabah Parks conservation area here yesterday.

“Dive masters from various tour operators should also assist in ensuring tourists do not disturb or destroy coral.”

He said the general health of the coral in and around Sipadan was good, although certain areas preferred by divers might be slightly stressed.

“We have 12 diving points around Sipadan, but most people prefer going to Baracudda Point, Drop Off Point and South Point,” he said, urging visitors to look at other sites in the diving haven instead.

Guinu, who launched the official gazetting of about 1km radius of the sea area around the island as a park, said with that they could now act against those who destroyed coral in the area.

A total of 16,846.5ha of coral reefs and sea area around Sipadan are now officially a park area. Previously, only the 13.5ha island was gazetted and Sabah Parks was not able to enforce conservation laws.

Sipadan is also gazetted a “Restricted Area” by the National Security Council (NSC).

As of now, 120 divers are given permits daily by the NSC at a fee of RM40 each.

Guinu said Sabah Parks was now looking at the possibility of char­ging fees for visitors to the island.

He also said there were no plans for any further development or installing structures on Sipadan to help protect and preserve one the world’s top diving spots.

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Orangutan population up but threats remain

Helen Briggs BBC News 4 Mar 16;

There are more Sumatran orangutans in the wild than previously thought, according to a new survey.

The latest estimate puts the population at about 14,600 - more than twice the previous figure, based on a survey of nests where the apes sleep.

Ecologists say the rise is not due to population growth but because some apes were missed in past surveys.

The species remains at serious threat from poaching and loss of forests, they report in Science Advances.

Orangutans are the world's largest tree-climbing mammal - and Asia's only great ape.

They were once found across South East Asia, but today are confined to two islands, Borneo and Sumatra.

Their forest habitat is rapidly disappearing, putting their future in jeopardy.

Higher estimate

Until now, the total Sumatran orangutan population was put at 6,600 individuals, based on data from 2004.

In the new survey in 2015, orangutans were found in unexpected places, including at higher altitudes in the mountains, forests recovering from logging and areas west of the Toba Lake that had not been previously examined.

An international team of scientists says that while there are evidently more Sumatran orangutans remaining in the wild than once thought, the species remains under serious threat.

It is very important that these findings are not interpreted as suggesting that numbers have increased, nor that their range has expanded, the group reports.

"The known current range is now 17,797 sq km (6,871 sq miles), roughly 2.56 times larger," said a team led by Serge Wich, professor of primate biology at Liverpool John Moores University.

"Since 2004, Sumatran orangutan numbers have undoubtedly declined, and they continue to do so at an alarming rate because of ongoing deforestation and poaching/persecution," they wrote in Science Advances.


Prof Wich thinks it is good news that there are more of the apes in Sumatra, but says conservation efforts must continue.

"The overall finding that there are more orangutans certainly is positive because it is always good to have more of a critically endangered species," he told BBC News.

But he warned: "The threats to the forest are as real as ever and the predictions we make in the paper for the future indicate that in all the scenarios we considered there will be continuing decreases in orangutan numbers over the coming years."

The survey was carried out by counting the nests orangutans build to sleep in at night and rest in during the day.

From that, an estimate of population size was made.

The orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra are regarded as separate species.

There are thought to be around 54,000 orangutans in Borneo.

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