Best of our wild blogs: 21 Mar 16

Chek Jawa with families
wild shores of singapore

Night Walk At Upper Seletar Reservoir (18 Mar 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Singapore Raptor Report – January 2016
Singapore Bird Group

Many-lined Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciata) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Monday Morgue

Read more!

Rain gardens among makeover plans for 20 PUB water projects

Eight schools to benefit from the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme
LOUISA TANG Today Online 21 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE — Twenty more waterways and water bodies will be getting a facelift within the next five years under national water agency PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) programme.

These projects, announced as the ABC Waters programme reached its 10-year mark, include a new initiative to teach young children about water quality and habitat creation through the building of “rain gardens” in schools.

These rain gardens, which will be built in eight schools and slated for completion by the second quarter of next year, are designed to absorb rainwater run-off, so students can have hands-on testing of water quality from the rain gardens, for example.

The water bodies getting a makeover include Jurong Lake, Kallang Riverside, Alkaff Lake (Bidadari Pond), Sungei Simpang Kanan, Chestnut Drive Outlet Drain, Sungei Whampoa and Bukit Batok West Outlet Drain.

At Bidadari estate, the PUB is constructing a detention pond, which temporarily stores excess rainwater, to be integrated with the upcoming HDB development and park space.

The Kallang Riverside project will also feature detention ponds, rain gardens and bio-retention swales, which will be incorporated in private development plots.

Three projects also broke ground yesterday at Hougang Avenue 10, Sungei Pinang and Serangoon Reservoir.

At Sungei Pinang, for example, the PUB will be building a new bridge to connect Punggol Park with the Housing Development Board (HDB) estates opposite, besides beautifying the riverbanks.

Residents living near the new projects whom TODAY spoke to welcomed the future changes.

Undergraduate Mark Cheong, who lives in Eastwood Green condominium, close to Bedok Canal, said he thought it “has been a long time coming”.

Under the Bedok Canal project, about 1.2km of the banks will be enhanced with greenery, while two neighbourhood parks — Eastwood Park and Bedok Ria — will be refurbished and designed to be integrated with the waterway.

“A lot of people live, exercise and travel along the canal, so sprucing it up would definitely make it much more pleasant.

“Right now, while the park connector may be great, the canal itself can be a bit of an eyesore with dirty water and stained seawalls,” the 24-year-old added.

Civil servant Gillian Chan, 23, who lives at Hougang Avenue 10, said the PUB should consider improving upon the communal space to be built there.

Basic shower facilities or even facilities for dogs, for example, could make it “more than a regular park” she added.

Nine other projects are in progress and all will be completed by 2018.

Over at Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang, for example, the PUB is currently building a boardwalk connecting residents to amenities such as the Senja-Cashew Community Club, two lookout decks as well as a fixed performance stage on the water for residents to use.

In a media briefing last week, the PUB also gave an update on its target of revitalising 100 water bodies and waterways by 2030 under the ABC Waters programme.

So far, 32 projects have been completed, including the flagship project at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

Commenting on the progress of the ABC Waters programme, Mr Kavickumar Muruganathan, head of eco-certifications and lead environmental engineer at the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), said rejuvenating water bodies creates a conducive ecosystem for greater biodiversity, such as the famous otter family at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

“PUB got the model right by bringing the heartlands near to water ... people can get up close to it and cherish it as a natural resource,” he said.

The SEC used to administer the ABC Waters Learning Trails programme to primary and secondary schools up until last year.

They also helped develop syllabuses that taught students the history and geography of a water body, and gave them hands-on activities such as measuring the pH value of water.

Waterways Watch Society chairman Eugene Heng said that while the programme’s intentions were “very commendable and noble”, the bigger challenge was how residents would keep the water bodies clean.

“Very often we find them being used wrongly ... people fish at non-fishing zones, use live bait when they’re not supposed to, and there’s trash everywhere,” he said.

The PUB could work with community centres and neighbourhood centres on a programme that promotes social responsibility among its residents, he suggested.

“It’s not a question about bringing in more cleaners or putting more bins around. It’s about inculcating a culture from when you start school that our water bodies should be kept clean. What’s the point of making them beautiful if they’re going to be dirty afterwards?” Mr Heng added.

20 more waterways upgrading projects in next 5 years
Today Online 20 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE – Twenty projects to upgrade water bodies like rivers and canals around the island will be completed over the next five years, according to the Public Utilities Board (PUB).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony in Hougang for three of these three Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) projects on Sunday (March 20).

The three projects are at Hougang Avenue 10, Sungei Pinang and Serangoon Reservoir. These projects are part of the Housing and Development Board’s Remaking Our Heartland Programme for Hougang.

In his speech, Mr Lee said that the ABC projects have been a success.

“We have developed our waterways... not just for functional purposes so that we have... water to drink and to use but also for recreation and to improve our living environment,” he added.

The project will start from the junction of Hougang Avenue 4 and runs along Hougang Avenue 10 to Sungei Pinang next to Punggol Park. It will continue on to Serangoon Reservoir, stretching about 2.2km in total.

The project is expected to be completed by 2018.

Some 1,500 residents attended the event on Sunday. The groundbreaking ceremony was held in conjunction with the Hibiscus Family Carnival organised by Sengkang South Grassroots Organisation in the Hibiscus precinct of the division.

Makeover of three water bodies in Hougang to be completed in three years
LOUISA TANG Today Online 21 Mar 16;

Decks for residents to relax on and hold community events, a new pedestrian bridge and a fishing spot along the edge of the Serangoon Reservoir.

These are features that Hougang residents can look forward to when three water bodies in the town are revitalised under the PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) programme.

These three latest projects were unveiled yesterday at a groundbreaking ceremony officiated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. About 1,500 residents attended the event.

Visitors also got to view a photo exhibition, titled SG Blue Spaces: In Seasons, featuring eight of Mr Lee’s personal works, some of which were taken at ABC Waters sites.

A 1.3km stretch of the canal along Hougang Avenue 10, between Hougang Avenue 4 and Buangkok Drive, will be enhanced with additional greenery along the canal edge.

The existing pedestrian bridge at Block 458, Hougang Avenue 10, will be reconstructed to a deck, which will connect the bus stop and housing blocks.

At Sungei Pinang, about 700m of the waterway banks will be enhanced with greenery, while a pedestrian bridge will be constructed across it to connect the housing estates and amenities in the vicinity.

A 200m stretch of Serangoon Reservoir will also undergo a makeover.

New community and recreational spaces for residents and park users, as well as viewing decks that integrate the reservoir and the park connector, will be built.

Fishing enthusiasts will also have a new fishing spot along the edge of the reservoir.

Works on all three projects are slated to begin next month and will be completed within three years, said national water agency PUB. LOUISA TANG

20 more ABC Waters projects to be completed in next 5 years
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officiated the groundbreaking ceremony of three projects under the ABC Waters programme on Sunday.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 20 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s heartlands will soon enjoy enhanced waterbodies and waterways, along with new recreational and community spaces, as some 20 more projects under the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Programme are slated to be completed over the next five years.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officiated the groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday (Mar 20) of three of these projects at Hougang Avenue 10, Sungei Pinang and Serangoon Reservoir, which are also part of HDB’s Remaking Our Heartland Programme for Hougang. It stretches about 2.2km, and is expected to be completed by 2018.

“It’s double celebration today because we're breaking ground for three ABC Waters projects in Hougang Town, and we're also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ABC Waters project," said Mr Lee.

"The ABC Waters project has been a great success. We've developed our waterways, our reservoirs and lakes, not just for functional purposes so that we have water to collect to drink and to use but also for recreation and to improve our living environment, and we've been able to build new community spaces that are clean, pleasant, full of life."

The ABC Waters Programme also aims to encourage the public to become guardians of the nation’s water resources. And this time, it’s starting young. National water agency PUB will build rain gardens at eight schools this year, which will serve as outdoor classrooms where students can learn about water and nature.

In addition, PUB will work with other government agencies to widen the adoption of ABC Waters concepts, like looking into a creating a framework to guide developers in integrating the design of their new developments with nearby waterways.

Over the last decade, 32 ABC Waters projects have been completed across the island. Another 54 ABC Waters certified projects were undertaken by private developers and other public agencies. To commemorate its 10th anniversary, PUB has rolled out a series of exhibits to bring the programme closer to the community, one of which showcased Mr Lee’s personal photographs of Singapore’s water spaces.

- CNA/rw

Read more!

Malaysia: 'Hot spell almost equal to 1997-98 situation'


KUALA LUMPUR: Climatologists have sounded the alarm, warning of severe consequences of the El Nino phenomenon, as the latest developments suggested that the country will endure the hot spell up to June.

Experts cautioned of a situation as bad the 1997-98 El Nino, the worst in the country’s history.

They warned that a four-month-long dry spell and scorching heat could, as in the past, lead to severe air pollution, choking haze, and massive forest and bush fires.

Malaysians, they said, must also brace themselves for severe water shortages if no pre-emptive measures are put in place.

In Sabah, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau yesterday said the El Nino phenomenon would likely last until June, instead of next month as projected earlier, although the extreme temperatures would slowly dip and more rainfall would be recorded in May.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s climatology and physical oceanography expert Professor Dr Fredolin Tangang said the drought would likely continue affecting the whole region, with Sabah and northern Sarawak set to be the hardest hit in the next two months.
The authorities, he said, had no choice but to plan precautionary measures to deal with the situation.

“The El Nino this year is looking to be almost equal in strength to the one in 1997-98. This phase of the El Nino is a continuation from last year’s, when we were affected by a thick blanket of haze.

“Researchers concluded this El Nino poses almost the same threats as the one we faced almost two decades ago. It is worrying,” Tangang told the New Sunday Times yesterday.

Water quality specialist Dr Zaki Zainudin said the prolonged El Nino would result in an increase in overall temperature, which would be compounded by lower rainfall in many parts of the country. This would lower the level of water in rivers, lakes and catchment areas.

“Reduced flow of water also means a potential increase in pollutants in our streams and rivers.

“A lot of waste is dislodged into rivers, so the reduced volume of water at these sources will not help with dilution. As a result, pollutants, such as ammonia, organics and maybe even solids, will be a real threat.

“The aquatic ecosystems will also be under a lot of stress (because of the high ammonia and low dissolved oxygen levels). If it prolongs, it will result in fishkill (in which massive numbers will die),” he said.

Zaki told the NST that rivers, from which low levels of water were still being extracted for supply, treatment and distribution to homes, might contain high volumes of pollutants and may not be fit for human consumption.

“This has happened before. The rise in ammonia (above 1.5 mg/L) in Sungai Langat caused two plants to shut down in 2014. Conventional treatment systems are incapable of treating ammonia. Hence, there may be risks of sporadic disruptions now and again.”

Zaki said the authorities should prepare contingencies when demand for water exceeded supply.

“For example, plans for interdistrict or interstate water transfer could start being drafted and alternative water sources, such as lakes, should also be considered.

“There should also be increased efforts in pollution prevention.”

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said agencies under his ministry were monitoring water levels at all reservoirs as well as marine water temperatures and haze and forest fires.

“The states are being kept in the loop as this comes under their purview.

“The Forest and Marine Park departments have been advised to monitor forest and marine parks. They will also observe our coral reefs and keep a close eye on marine water temperatures,” he said, adding enforcement officers and rangers were on standby.

Wan Junaidi said while the Department of Environment (DOE) had also been monitoring the pollution index and haze, several other enforcement agencies would work together to curb open burning.

“The ban against open burning is being enforced. The DOE is monitoring compliance with several other agencies tasked with assisting in enforcing the law.

“These include the police, Fire and Rescue Department and local councils,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said those who failed to adhere to the rulings would face legal action, including being dragged to court.

“We are also working with the states to review their laws and make amendments where necessary, like we are doing with the Environment Act now.”

Additional reporting by Avila Geraldine

Ministry issues guidelines for farmers and fishermen
New Straits Times 20 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry has outlined 13 steps for the agro-food sector to mitigate the effects of the El Nino phenomenon, including for agro sub-sectors, such as crops, livestock and fisheries.

“The lack of water can hinder crop growth, reducing productivity and giving rise to diseases, such as brown spots and blast.

As for padi cultivation, with the exception of Sabah and Sarawak, maintenance on 281 tube wells will be carried out, along with the construction of new ones,” it said in a statement.

The ministry said RM4 million out of the RM20 million allocated in the 2016 Budget would address water scarcity in the agro-food sector.

“In the fisheries sector, the measures taken were stopping the export of fish, such as kembong, selayang, selar, cencaru and pelaling and, allowing pukat jerut from the east coast of the peninsula to operate in waters off Sarawak, where pelagic fish are less exploited.

“Marine catches showed rising sea temperatures as a result of El Nino were the cause of fish migrating, affecting the catch for fishermen.”

Among measures taken for the livestock sector included distributing food packs containing vitamins and energising liquids.

The ministry said the drought had caused a reduction in weight and reproductive efficiency in livestock and this could result in losses for farmers.

Sufficient fish supply despite heat wave: LKIM
DAWN CHAN New Straits Times 20 Mar 16;

PORT KLANG: The Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (LKIM) has assured there would be sufficient fish supply in the market for the public.

This is despite the information received from local fishermen that the hot spell in the past three months had stunted the growth of fish at the Malacca Straits and led to reduced fish stock.

Its chairman Datuk Irmohizam Ibrahim said fishing activities in Sabah and Sarawak waters were stable and would make up for the drop in supply from the Malacca Straits.

"People should not worry about inadequate supply as the situation is under control.

I have also asked the National Fisherman's Association (Nekmat) to prepare frozen fish stock to be sold in farmer's market if there is a need.

"LKIM, Nekmat and the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) will take proactive steps to ensure the fish supply is controlled especially for farmer's markets as well as fishermen's market in the country," said Irmohizam. Meanwhile, Irmohizam, who is also Kuala Selangor MP, had also asked that the federal government set up more MyFarm Outlets which sell agricultural produce directly to consumers at lower prices.

"I hope for more MyFarm Outlets in Selangor because there is a demand for it from the middle-class people as well as the younger generation who want to buy wet food at cheaper prices.

With the rapid growing population in the Klang Valley, I deem it right for MyFarm Outlets to exist here,too.

"At the same time, this will benefit local fishermen as they could sell their catch directly to consumers.

There should be one in Kuala Selangor which is the heart of fishing activities for the state and an agro-tourism platform, too," he said.

The first of the 11 MyFarm Outlet shops was opened in Putrajaya on March 1. It sells produce such as fish, poultry, meat, vegetable and fruits at between five and 20 per cent below market prices.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sabah bearing brunt of El Nino


PETALING JAYA: Four states in the peninsula and Sabah recorded the highest temperature readings in the country yesterday on the day of the equinox smack during the El-Nino phenomenon.

The locations were Chuping in Perlis (39.5°C), Alor Setar in Kedah (39.1), Ipoh in Perak (37.5), and Temerloh in Pahang (37.4) and Keningau (37) in Sabah.

“The readings almost reached danger level, 40°C, which can cause heatstroke,” Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Madius Tangau told reporters after a function in Tuaran in Sabah yesterday.

He said the ministry would continue to monitor developments and share updates on the weather for the attention and action of other ministries as well as the public.

Sabah is bearing the brunt of El Nino which is sending the mercury rising with little rain fall.

Worse still, the dry spell could last until May, according to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) climatology and oceanography expert Prof Dr Fredolin Tangang.

“One just has to drive from Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort to see the effects of the El Nino, including the area scorched by fire in Papar,” he said in a phone interview with The Star.

Most at risk are villagers who rely on streams, rivers and rain for water and whose livelihood are dependent on farming such as hill padi.

He said an 80% drought probability was forecast for northern Sarawak and Sabah in December and it was happening now adding that the drought probability for peninsular Malaysia was forecast at 50%.

Tangang said authorities need to act to lessen the sufferings of the people, especially in the interior regions.

“Likewise, people also need to be cautious not to do open burning or throw cigarette butts by the side of the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tangau pointed out the highest ever temperature recorded in Malaysia was 40.1°C in Chuping, Perlis on April 9, 1998 during extreme El Nino and not during the equinox.

He also attributed the haze in the Klang Valley to the dry weather, open burning and local bush fires.

The Air Pollutant Index reached unhealthy levels in Cheras (151) Shah Alam (129) and Batu Muda (106) on Saturday.

Terengganu has seen an average of about 10 peat fires a day due to scorching heat.

State Fire and Rescue Department director Azlimin Mat Noor said over the two days, there were 26 peat fires with 18 cases on Saturday and eight yesterday, with the biggest covering about a hectare.

“We have 700 firemen and about 250 volunteers are on standby for any eventualities,” he said.

Drought wreaks havoc on more Sabah districts
The Star 20 Mar 16;

KOTA KINABALU: More Sabah districts are being hit by the ongoing drought with reports of crops being destroyed by fires.

Several hundred hectares of crops, including fruit orchards, rubber and oil palm estates in the interior Keningau district, have been destroyed by fires over the past week.

Keningau Fire and Rescue Services Department chief Mudi Pengiran said 10 villages in the district were affected.

District Officer Yusop Osman said among the areas affected was about 4ha at the Bunang mini estate land settlement scheme.

He said the losses could not be determined for the moment as the the natural disaster and relief committee was awaiting reports from the affected land owners.

Yusop said another 280ha of forests and plantations had also been damaged by fires, prompting the Fire and Rescue Services Department to carry out aerial water dousing operations in the area.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry had reported that Keningau was one of three areas in the country where temperatures had exceeded 35°C for more than 10 days consecutively.

Over in the northern Kota Belud district, officials there had received some 30 reports of padi crops being destroyed by the drought.

Kota Belud District Officer Gari Itam said they had also received another nine reports of padi crops, rubber and palm oil trees being damaged by fires.

“This situation is being experienced across the district including at Kadamaian, Usukan and Tampasuk,” he added.

Read more!

Malaysia: Decision Tomorrow Whether Schools To Close For Extremely Hot Weather

Bernama 20 Mar 16;

KOTA BAHARU, March 20 (Bernama) -- The Education Ministry will decide tomorrow whether schools in certain areas will be closed due to the extremely hot weather, said its minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid.

He said his ministry was monitoring the hot weather situation and yesterday, it was found that Kedah and Perlis recorded temperatures as high as 39.2 degrees Celsius.

"Today, we will look at the temperature situation in Kedah and Perlis and tomorrow we will decide whether schools in certain areas should be closed if the temperature continues to rise exceeding 39 degrees Celsius without any sign of dropping," he told reporters after attending a gathering with principals and headmasters of schools in Kelantan, here today.

Mahdzir said a special committee at the ministry level chaired by the Director-General of Education Datuk Seri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof would study and make a decision concerning the closure of the schools concerned.

He said his ministry was also getting information from time to time on the development concerning the extremely hot weather from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment as well as the Ministry of Science, Technologi and Innovations.

He said he had issued a directive for all activities outside the classroom to be stopped following the extremely hot weather.

Malaysia is now experiencing hot and dry weather caused by the El Nino phenomenon and the Malaysian Meteorological Department predicted that the situation will only end in May or June, with the hottest weather recorded today due to the equinox phenomenon.

Asked on the development concerning the solution to the problems of married teachers who were living apart from their spouses, Mahdzir said the ministry was resolving the problem in stages where the problems for 2,000 teachers had been resolved last year while up to this month, the problem for 560 teachers were solved.

He said the ministry had received 7,000 applications for transfers from teachers who wished to stay close to their spouses.

On candidates for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) 2016 for the second term beginning in May and the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) for the July session, who were prohibited from bringing in the wristwatch into the examination hall, Mahdzir said he would seek a report on the matter from the chief executive of the Malaysian Examination Council, Dr Jamil Adimin.

Yesterday, Dr Jamil was reported as saying that the prohibition to bring in or wear the wristwatch in the hall and while sitting for the examination aimed to prevent cases of misconduct among the candidates.


Parents keeping an eye on the mercury
The Star 21 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: Kids are set to return to school today after a one-week break, but parents are keeping a watchful eye on the heatwave.

And many will not wait for a directive from the Education Ministry to pull their children out from school if they feel it is getting too hot.

“If I feel the temperature is too high, I’m not going to send them to school,” said businessman Mark David Joseph, 40.

When the haze hit last year, Brian Ho, 42, didn’t wait for an emergency to be declared before he pulled daughter Vivienne, nine, from school for a few days.

“Some international schools have haze sensors that measure pollutants, and the information is shared among parents. I will also decide for myself when it comes to the heat,” he said.

In Alor Setar where it was hottest yesterday, one parent Tan Teng Teng, 46, said she would keep her son from school, SJK (C) Peng Min. The new school term started yesterday in Kedah.

“I want him to stay at home for one or two days, go back to school for a few days and then skip class again if the heat wave prolongs or get worse,” she said.

Tan said she has also told her son to increase his water intake and “I boil herbal drink for him and my other children”.

Houswife M. Kavitha, 40, is also monitoring the weather.

“She can stand the heat but I am really worried about the effect of the heat om her health,”

The school’s Parent and Teacher Association chairman Teh Kok Soo said air-conditioners installed in the school’s Year Five classroom would be switched on from 10.30am to 3pm daily.

In the Klang Valley, rain provided temporary respite from the blazing heat yesterday,with many parents deciding that their children would be going to school.

“Yesterday’s weather was not that hot,” said brand manager Darren Duarte, 44, adding that he would send his daughter Selena to school.

“But I will monitor the temperature, and if it rises, I will fetch her home even if there is no directive.”

Meanwhile, Government school teachers are not in favour of closing schools unless they receive official directives from the ministry.

All schools in Terengganu required to provide drinking water to students
The Star 20 Mar 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: All schools in Terengganu are required to provide sufficient drinking water to students in the face of the hot weather caused by the El Nino phenomenon.

State Education Department (JPN) director Shafruddin Ali Hussain said the school session that began today went smoothly but measures will be implemented to avoid dehydration among students.

"The JPN also recommends that schools provide students with sponges and water to wipe the body as athletes do to prevent dehydration," he said.

He was speaking to reporters after officiating the starting of Form Six classes at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Sultan Sulaiman, here Sunday.

The department also suggested that schools do not conduct outside classroom activities for now to avoid direct exposure to sunlight, he added. - Bernama

Kelantan, Kedah and Johor schools to reopen today
New Straits Times 20 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Schools in Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Johor will reopen and operate as usual today, the Education Ministry said yesterday.

However, the ministry said in a statement that outdoor activities should be suspended until further notice from the ministry or if weather conditions improved.

It said the state Education Department, District Education Office and schools had been advised to monitor students’ health by providing drinking water. “Schools should also encourage students to bring drinking water to school.

“Should there be complications due to the El Nino phenomenon, schools must contact the nearest clinic or hospital.

In this case, the District Education Office should discuss measures to take with the district health officer to prevent untoward incidences.

“Schools must comply with circulars and notifications issued by the Education Ministry.” The school session resumes today and tomorrow as the first term break ends.

In Kota Baru, Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said any decision to close schools had to be made by four ministries, including the Education Ministry, through a national-level committee. The three other ministries are the Health, Science, Technology and Innovation and Natural Resources and Environment ministries.

Read more!

Indonesia: Government to maximize peatland economic development

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 19 Mar 16;

In addition to its primary target of restoring 2 million hectares of peatland that had been degraded by the recurring forest fires, the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) is also seeking to boost the country’s agriculture sector in peatland areas.

BRG head Nazir Foead said on Friday that he had received instructions from the presidential office to also look at the economic aspect during the restoration project, where the agency, in response, would seek suitable methods to restore damaged peatland while at the same time increasing the livelihoods of local people.

“We are looking at plants that are suited to peatland, such as sago. Companies are also thinking about finding suitable trees to plant, so that their fiber could be used for pulp and paper,” he told The Jakarta Post on the sideline of the fifth International Conference on Oil Palm and Environment (ICOPE) in Bali.

Nazir assured that the economic aspect of the agency’s job would not jeopardize the main peatland restoration project.

“The plants can only be planted on land that has been opened but not cultivated. As for peatland which has not been opened yet, it will remain untouched,” he said.

Furthermore, sustainable agricultural practice and the government’s restoration project would support each other, according to Nazir.

He said productive agriculture did not only mean production as productive agriculture could only be achieved if the peatland was restored.

“I believe these two go hand-in-hand because if you develop agriculture on peatland, the peatland has to be well managed as it’s the main asset for the crops to grow,” the agency’s chief said.

As part of the project, the government has also planned to distribute 2.2 million hectares of open-access (areas which have been converted to plantation without an existing permit) peatland to indigenous people so that they could improve their livelihoods.

“It’s very possible to allocate peatland for indigenous people. If the peatland area is left as open-access, then it will keep burning. If we give clear rights [to the area], then the one who owns the land will protect it,” Nazir said.

The 2.2 million hectares is part of the government’s pledge to give 12.7 million hectares of forest for use to the country’s local and indigenous people.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry said it was still in discussion with Nazir on the possibilities of converting open-access peatland to becoming a social forest.

“We’re still discussing with Pak Nazir whether it can be used as a social forest or not because President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo said there is no new permit,” the ministry’s social and partnership forestry director-general, Hadi Daryanto, said on Thursday.

As the government is seeking to restore peatland while at the same time develop local agriculture, it will require a huge amount of funds. Therefore, Nazir said the BRG was currently looking for an innovative financing scheme to both fund the restoration project as well as improving sustainable practices among farmers working on peatland areas.

He said the BRG was aiming to lure impact investors from Europe and the US.

“We want to work with progressive investors and companies,” said Nazir.

Besides looking at potential investors, the agency is also hoping to tap into the dana desa (village fund), which the central government had started disbursing to villages since last year, according to him.

“We are thinking about how to help the [restoration plan] by using the dana desa on village peatland, but at the same time, ensure that [the funds] will be used wisely,” Nazir said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Palm oil industry urged to help combat climate change

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 19 Mar 16;

The palm oil industry can contribute significantly to fulfilling Indonesia’s commitment to fighting climate change, the fifth International Conference on Oil Palm and Environment (ICOPE) in Bali concluded on Friday.

According to a study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), oil palm trees are capable of absorbing 13.7 tons of CO2 per hectare. On the other hand, they only release 3.6 tons of CO2 per ha, most of which comes from Palm Oil Mill Effluents (POME). Therefore, palm oil plantations could absorb 10.1 tons of CO2 per ha.

Learning from those facts, the palm oil industry should take several measures if it truly wants to contribute to reducing carbon emissions in Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer. Palm oil is the second-largest contributor to exports in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

“The first thing is to increase yield because by doing so we will reduce emissions. This can be done very quickly in small areas by replanting and better fertilization programs, better recycling of nutrients and better waste management,” PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) Research Institute division head, Jean-Pierre Caliman, said during the closing ceremony of the conference.

Furthermore, the palm oil industry has to commit to stopping slash-and-burn practices as well as deforestation, he added.

“We can do it by stopping deforestation, methane capture, zero burning and setting aside conservation areas,” said Caliman.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia said one of the first things that the palm oil industry needed to tackle was the recurring forest fires, which last year razed more than 2.6 million ha of forest and peatland, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“The palm oil industry has to be fully aware of the importance of integrating early warning systems to prevent the repeat of last year’s haze crisis as well as convincing local people that their involvement is needed,” WWF Indonesia CEO Efransjah said.

The forest fires and the haze resulting from them are also bad for the palm oil industry, all the more reason why the industry has to fight the annually recurring disaster.

Caliman, who serves as the chairman of ICOPE’s organizing committee, said thick haze from the recurring forest fires also affected the palm oil industry negatively as the haze affected the sun’s radiation necessary for plants to photosynthesize.

He came to the conclusion after he collected data from palm oil plantations in Riau and Central Kalimantan for years.

“The effect of haze is very negative for the palm oil industry and it’s quite significant,” Caliman said. “Based on the data that we have and additional observation of photosynthesis measurement and sugar content monitoring, there was a sharp decline in photosynthesis due to the haze.”

In order for the palm oil industry in Indonesia to be more sustainable as well as to be more adaptable to climate change, Caliman said technology, such as greenhouse gas monitoring systems, could help the industry.

“Technology for mitigation and adaptation against climate change is available to assist the palm oil industry,” he said.

However, it is important for researchers to develop tools that are more user-friendly, according to Caliman.

“In France, every day there are demonstrations by farmers saying that there are too many tools, regulations and certifications. Therefore, the challenge for us as researchers is to develop tools that are easy to use and implement by farmers,” he said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Fishermen reject planned conservation zone

Severianus Endi, The Jakarta Post 21 Mar 16;

Thousands of fishermen in West Kalimantan will become jobless if the provincial administration goes ahead with its plan to ban fishing within 4 nautical miles of the shore, as many are not sufficiently equipped to fish that far offshore.

Indonesian Fishermen’s Association (HNSI) West Kalimantan chapter head Sigit Sugiardi said most of the fishermen used boats with a capacity below 5 gross tons, which have a cruising range that does not extend further than 4 nautical miles offshore.

“If we cannot catch fish, we don’t eat. How is it be possible if fishermen are only allowed to catch fish beyond 4 miles? Our boats will not be able to do it,” Sigit told The Jakarta Post over the weekend.

He said the West Kalimantan sea was generally flat, sandy and muddy, while the coastline was teeming with mangrove trees, making it impossible to use large equipment.

He added that small fishermen already experienced difficulties in meeting their daily needs, and that limiting their movement would only increase their existing burden.

The province’s annual fish production of 200,000 tons, exceeds the initial target of 180,000 tons. Meanwhile, annual fish consumption in the region has also risen from the previous rate of 24 kilograms per person to 36 kg at present.

West Kalimantan Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Office head Gatot Rudiyono said the increase in fish consumption in the province should be followed by fish conservation efforts, as a significant increase in consumption as well as a rise in illegal fishing by foreign fishing vessels would deplete fish reserves in the future.

“We are very concerned about sustainability initiatives in the marine sector,” Gatot said.

He said that the planned four-mile non-fishing zone was intended to maintain fish stocks.

The zone will serve as a safe place for fish to mate, spawn, lay eggs and protect minnows from predators.

“But in principle, the conservation plan is not rigid as fishermen are still allowed to fish providing they use fishing gear that is completely safe,” said Gatot.

The plan is part of Law No. 23/2014, which gives provincial administrations the authority to manage marine areas within 12 nautical miles from the shore.

If the zero to 4 mile zone is turned into a conservation area, fishermen will only be able to catch fish in the four to 12-mile zone from the shore.

“If fish has grown big, it will not remain near the coast, and will obviously move toward the open sea beyond the 4-mile zone where they are allowed to be caught,” said Gatot.

In implementing the plan, the provincial administration will draw up a provincial bylaw regarding the division of marine utility zones. To protect the conservation zone, concrete barriers will be installed to protect the area from would-be poachers.

He added that without a reserved fish conservation area, the marine life in West Kalimantan waters would be severely depleted, similar to what has happened in Vietnam and Thailand, where fish stocks have been affected by fishing vessels entering their waters.

Read more!

Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching threat raised to highest level

Environment minister accused of omitting climate change as cause of bleaching after surveying death of coral in reef’s far north
Joshua Robertson The Guardian 21 Mar 16;

Australian environment minister Greg Hunt has been accused of going silent on climate change as the cause of dying coral in the Great Barrier Reef after a bleaching alert was raised to its highest level.

Hunt, who surveyed the widespread death of coral in the far north of the reef by plane on Sunday, announced plans for more monitoring and programs to tackle run-off pollution and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.

But critics including conservationists and the Queensland environment minister, Steven Miles, said Hunt’s response sidestepped the central role of climate change and heat stress as the cause of the bleaching.

Miles said Hunt’s announcements were “window dressing” that duplicated state efforts and ignored the need for a “credible federal government climate policy to address the cause”.

The Great Barrier Reef marine park authority raised the threat level of coral bleaching to a peak of three on Sunday, triggering its highest level of response to “severe regional bleaching” in the northernmost quarter of the 344,400 sq km marine park.

The authority’s chairman, Russell Reichelt, said corals in the remote far north of the reef, where surface sea temperatures reached 33C in February, were “effectively bathed in warm water for months, creating heat stress that they could no longer cope with”.

“We still have many more reefs to survey to gauge the full impact of bleaching, however, unfortunately, the further north we go from Cooktown the more coral mortality we’re finding,” he said.

Reichelt cited tackling run-off, crown-of-thorns starfish and “being part of a global compact to reduce overall emissions” as the keys to protecting the reef from climate change impacts.

Before announcing a new high-technology monitoring program, Hunt told reporters the bleaching he saw during an aerial survey was not as bad as first thought.

“It is not as severe at this stage as 1998 or 2002, which were both El Niño-related events,” Hunt said. “It is, however, in the northern parts, a cause for concern.

“The reef is 2,300 kilometres long and the bottom three-quarters is in strong condition but, as we head north, it becomes increasingly prone to bleaching.”

Miles, who travelled overseas with Hunt for the UN world heritage committee ruling that spared the reef an “in danger listing” last year, said his commonwealth counterpart “knows very well that warmer, more acidic oceans is causing coral bleaching and that is caused by climate change”.

He said federal funding to repeat a University of Queensland survey of 40 reef sites in 2014 was “welcome, but frankly it is window dressing while the Turnbull government has no credible policy for achieving even its own carbon emission targets”.

“While it’s reassuring that the larger part of the reef is unaffected by this year’s global coral bleaching event, the widespread bleaching seen in the northern most parts of the reef is heart breaking,” Miles said.

“Being able to monitor the state of affected coral is important – Mr Hunt’s contribution on that front is welcome – but it is not enough.

“Where is his plan to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution? February sent records tumbling – the new hottest month on record after July 2015.”

The former Australian climate commissioner Will Steffen, who is now of the independent Climate Council, said the reef had weathered El Niño patterns for centuries but only began to experience repeated bleaching events “once global warming began in earnest in the 1970s”.

“Bleaching events have occurred repeatedly since the late 1970s while none were observed before the 1970s,” Steffen said.

“Climate change, combined with the El Niño effect, has proved a deadly stress on the reef.”

The chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Kelly O’Shanassy, said the federal government “appears to be confused about the cause of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef”.

“This is a phenomenon that is firmly a result of climate change, fuelled by burning coal,” she said.

Coral bleaching at Barrier Reef 'severe': Australia
Australian authorities said Sunday coral bleaching occurring in the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef had become "severe", the highest alert level, as sea temperatures warm.
Channel NewsAsia 20 Mar 16;

SYDNEY: Australian authorities said Sunday coral bleaching occurring in the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef had become "severe", the highest alert level, as sea temperatures warm.

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said while the bleaching at this stage was not as severe as in 1998 and 2002, also El Nino-related events, "it is however, in the northern parts a cause for concern".

"The reef is 2,300 kilometres (1,429 miles) long and the bottom three-quarters is in strong condition, but as we head north, it becomes increasingly prone to bleaching," Hunt said after an aerial tour of some of the affected areas Sunday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

"Essentially what you could see was patches of coral bleaching as you approached Lizard Island (located in the Barrier Reef)."

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said the highest response level, which it described as a "severe regional bleaching", allowed them to step up surveys to understand what was happening.

Hunt said the government would fund a survey of 40 sites in the reef area, which had been investigated in 2012, in September to assess the health of corals and potential recovery options.

"This information is particularly important for the future understanding of the reef given that the frequency of coral bleaching events and the severity of tropical cyclones are predicted to increase in the future," the minister said in a statement.

Bleaching is a phenomenon that turns corals white or fades their colours, threatening a valuable source of biodiversity, tourism and fishing.

It occurs when reef symbiosis - the mutually beneficial relationship between two organisms that inhabit corals - is disrupted by a rise in ocean warming, although there can also be other causes.

The reef - the world's biggest coral reef ecosystem - is already struggling from the threat of climate change, as well as farming run-off, development and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

It narrowly avoided being put on the UN World Heritage in danger list last year with Canberra working on a plan to improve the reef's health over successive decades.


Read more!