Best of our wild blogs: 22 Mar 16

Herp Walk: March for Macritchie
Herpetological Society of Singapore

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Spring Bay Australian Mussels recalled due to contamination

AVA confirms that the products were imported into Singapore, but says the importer has completed the recall of the implicated products from the market.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Selected batches of Spring Bay Australian Mussels have been recalled due to contamination with a biotoxin known as Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxins, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said on Monday (Mar 21).

In a media release, AVA said Food Standards Australia and New Zealand issued an alert and that it has since confirmed that affected Spring Bay Australian Mussels were imported into Singapore.

The importer has completed the recall of the implicated products from the Singapore market, it said.

"Consumers who have purchased the implicated products with the stated use by dates are advised not to consume it. Consumption of products contaminated with Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxins may cause diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, chills and abdominal pain," AVA said.

It urged those who have consumed affected products should seek medical advice of they have concerns.

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Singapore's water success has H2O expert worried

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Mar 16;

When it comes to water, Singapore may be a victim of its own success, says world renowned water expert Asit Biswas.

Water supplies are drying up at an unprecedented rate. But with the authorities here so efficient at making such effects invisible at the turn of the tap, Singapore residents continue to take a free flow of fresh, clean water for granted, Professor Biswas believes.

So if he had his way, he would increase water prices here by 30 per cent immediately.

"In my view, water prices should have been increased a long time ago," he said, pointing out that they have remained stagnant for nearly 16 years.

Prof Biswas, who a decade ago won the Stockholm Water Prize - considered the water industry's Nobel Prize - for his outstanding contributions to global water resource issues, added: "Singaporeans now use water profligately for all household chores, as well as for bathing and hygienic purposes."

According to national water agency PUB, the price of potable water for domestic households is currently about $1.50 per cubic metre, or 1,000 litres, (not including GST) for households using 40 cubic m or less per month.

Each Singapore resident uses 150 litres of water per day, enough to fill almost two bathtubs.

This is far more than the usage in other cities with comparable standards of living, such as Estonia's capital Tallinn, Europe's most water-saving city, where each person uses 95 litres daily, Prof Biswas pointed out.

Water usage can be cut easily by substituting a mop for floor washing, in place of high-pressure water jets often seen in housing estates, for instance, and by using non-potable water for watering plants.

His advice comes at a time when sustainable water demand has become imperative.

With climate change expected to show more pronounced effects, dry spells are only going to become more pronounced within the next two to four decades.

"Singapore needs to think in terms of drought. Analysis has indicated that there may be periods where we may have one- to three- year droughts in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia," said Prof Biswas, who is also Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore (NUS).

Currently, Singapore gets about half of its water from Malaysia. Therefore, dry weather across the Causeway is a double whammy for the Republic.

Two months ago, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli revealed thatJohor's Linggiu Reservoir was half empty.

This is a far cry from a level of about 80 per cent at the start of last year.

The 55 sq km reservoir is five times larger than all of Singapore's reservoirs combined, and the Republic built it upstream of the Johor River in 1994, so that it can collect and release rainwater to push seawater back into the sea. This ensures that the river water is not too salty to be treated by the Singapore-run water treatment plant there.

Singapore residents, however, do not feel the impact of serious dry spells because the PUB runs desalination and Newater plants at high capacity to mitigate the impact of lower rainfall.

This cannot continue, said Prof Biswas, who advises 19 governments around the world, including China and Brazil, on water policy issues.

"Singapore has to move from supply management to thinking very seriously about how to manage the demands, both for the present and the future," he warned.

Besides, water prices now are not commensurate with rising household incomes and inflation, said Prof Biswas, who is also the founder of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico.

Sixteen years ago, the median employed resident household income here was $4,398.

Water bills represented 0.69 per cent of income based on 20 cubic m of water monthly. But by 2014, the household income had increased to $8,292 and the water bill represented just 0.36 per cent of its monthly income.

When contacted, a PUB spokesman said the answer to long-term water sustainability is source diversification.

"We have to move towards drought-resistant sources like reuse (that is, Newater) and desalination. These, however, are more energy-intensive, and hence more expensive, sources of water," she said.

"Therein lies the challenge. We can become more resilient to climate change, but at the cost of expending more energy."

The PUB declined to say if it will be increasing water prices.

Prof Biswas said he and his wife are "seriously considering" becoming Singapore permanent residents, as both love the working environment at NUS - where they are academics - and the "quality and intelligence" of the Republic's politicians and civil servants.

He admits, however, that his passion for water did not come naturally.

The 76-year-old Indian-born Canadian, who is now based in Singapore, said he was interested in soil mechanics initially.

But that space was filled, and water had been the only subject left for him to teach at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland back in 1963.

The subject slowly grew on him.

"It's serendipity. I did not choose water. It chose me," he said.

Water also brought joy to his life in other ways.

Prof Biswas, who graduated with a PhD in engineering from the University of Strathclyde, met his wife, Dr Cecilia Tortajada - thanks to water.

They met in the 1990s when Prof Biswas was advising the government of Mexico on water policy.

"There were very few scientists who spoke English fluently," he explained.

"She was one of them, so that's how we met."

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How some schools are coping with the heat

Sport Singapore on Monday sent out a circular advising athletes under the National Sports Associations to avoid strenuous activity between noon and 4pm, following warnings from authorities that temperatures could reach 36 degrees Celsius in coming weeks.
Chan Luo Er, Channel NewsAsia 21 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Sport Singapore on Monday (Mar 21) sent out a circular advising athletes under the National Sports Associations (NSAs) to avoid strenuous activity between noon and 4pm, following warnings from authorities that temperatures could range from 33 and 34 degrees Celsius in coming weeks, and could reach 36 degrees Celsius.

In the advisory, Sport Singapore said the health impact of unusually warm days is dependent on one's health, the temperature, as well as the length and intensity of exposure to the sun.

It encouraged staff and athletes under NSAs to drink plenty of water, take frequent breaks in the shade, and to watch out for symptoms of heat stress, which include fatigue, nausea and light-headedness.

The Singapore Sports School told Channel NewsAsia that most of its sports training is already held indoors, and when it gets too hot, any outdoor training will take place indoors.

CHIJ Katong Convent’s Track and Field team, which trains at the Kallang Practice Track twice a week, has been advised to consume more water and on occasion, train indoors to conduct physical conditioning exercises.

However, some team members said this arrangement is not ideal.

“It's really hard to move our exercises indoors, because some of us are field athletes, so we need the long jump pit, we need the cages to throw. For the sprinters, we also need the track with our markings. There are a lot of cases where people are dehydrated. For those who are unwell, usually they have to sit out under the shade and we will let them rest in the meantime,” said CHIJ Katong Convent student Atiqa Mashhood Dar, 17.

Student athletes from United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) also continued their training on Monday. Apart from ensuring athletes are hydrated, their coach said she is closely monitoring each member of her team as the heat affects everyone differently.

"We also have to pay attention to each athlete individually to see if they are over-heating or anything of that sort, to be able to tell an athlete: ‘Go sit in the shade, you are done for the day.’ If it is entirely too hot, we would just have to cancel training for the day,” said UWCSEA Track and Field Coach Katrina Hall-Engle.

- CNA/dl

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Number of new dengue cases falls for 4th week

There were 374 new cases in the week of Mar 13 to Mar 19, 23 fewer than the previous week, according to the latest data from NEA.
Channel NewsAsia 22 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of new cases of dengue reported is continuing on its downward trajectory for the 4th week in a row, with 374 cases reported from Mar 13 to Mar 19, according to the National Environment Agency's latest data.

This was 23 cases fewer than the 397 cases reported in the previous week. There were 412 cases reported from Feb 28 to Mar 5, 512 cases reported from Feb 21 to Feb 27, and 590 cases from Feb 14 to Feb 20.

Another 58 cases were reported from Mar 20 to 3.30pm on Mar 21, according to NEA's website.

A total of 5,657 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year. Three people - a 47-year-old man who lived in Marsiling Rise, a 67-year-old man who lived in Toa Payoh and a 63-year-old woman who lived in Bedok - have died of the disease so far.

The Ministry of Health and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

This is due to factors such as warmer conditions brought about by the El Nino weather phenomenon, faster breeding and maturation cycles of the Aedes mosquito population and a change in the main circulating dengue virus, said both agencies at a joint media briefing.

- CNA/mz

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'Citizen scientists' help out in biodiversity research

169 volunteers take part in wildlife survey at Pasir Ris Park as part of BioBlitz movement
Audrey Tan Straits Times 21 Mar 16;

The critters of Pasir Ris Park were joined on March 12 by more than 200 researchers and volunteers, who spent 12 hours documenting the biodiversity as part of an international citizen science movement.

From midnight to noon, they fanned out over various habitats within the 70ha park in eastern Singapore to count and record the number of ants, birds, butterflies, fireflies and wildflowers, among others.

In total, an estimated 265 species of plants and animals - including the rare buffy fish owl and Svistella chekjawa - a species of cricket that can be found only in Singapore - were identified there.

Dr Lena Chan, director of organiser National Parks Board's National Biodiversity Centre, said: "We were quite heartened that in this short period, 60 bird species were recorded out of the 110 bird species found in Pasir Ris Park. It is... an encouraging indication of the health of the biodiversity."

The 169 volunteers, led by 47 researchers and naturalists from institutions such as the National University of Singapore (NUS), NParks and the Nature Society (Singapore), took part as part of BioBlitz.

Originating from the United States, this movement involves members of the public teaming up with researchers to record as many species of flora and fauna as possible within a specific location and timeframe.

Pasir Ris Park was chosen for the inaugural run here as it is an urban park that comprises a variety of other habitats, such as mangrove forests and intertidal areas.

"Through this event, we hope to glean data that will help us better understand the biodiversity at Pasir Ris Park and, at the same time, encourage the community to learn more about our natural heritage and contribute to organised research efforts as citizen scientists," Dr Chan said.

The event is part of NParks' Community in Nature Biodiversity Survey@Parks series, which gives the community the chance to learn from taxonomic experts.

Assistant Professor John Ascher from the NUS biological sciences department led the survey to document bees and wasps with independent researcher and translator John Lee.

Prof Ascher said citizen science initiatives such as BioBlitz are helpful for the study of specific groups of plants or animals, as academics may sometimes get caught up with lab work and not venture out into the field as much as they would like.

"There is very rich fauna in the tropics, but certain groups of animals, such as insects, are still not that well known. So citizen scientists and scientists are all trying to discover something new," he said.

Programme manager Joe See, 41, took part in the bee and wasp survey with his 10-year-old son Kayden as he believes it is healthy for children to be exposed to nature.

When asked why he chose to join the survey, Kayden said: "It's fun, I get to look at the bees. People always step on insects and crush them, but I'll tell them not to."

Volunteers and researchers fanned out over Pasir Ris Park to document the biodiversity there on March 12. Here are five animals spotted during the 12-hour BioBlitz.


Wasps from the genus Megascolia were found within the mangroves at Pasir Ris Park. Despite their formidable appearance, these wasps are solitary and harmless as they do not attack humans.


Stichodactyla haddoni

This marine animal was found at the intertidal area of Pasir Ris Park - the coastal zone between the highest and lowest tidemarks.


Paradoxurus hermaphroditus

Common palm civets are omnivores, and eat the fruits of the fishtail palm and seed pods of the rain tree, as well as small snakes, small birds, insects and rats.


Svistella chekjawa

Less than 1cm in length, this cricket can be found only in Singapore's mangrove forests. During the BioBlitz, it was found in the 6ha mangrove forest in Pasir Ris Park. It was first discovered at Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin, in 2012.


Fordonia leucobalia

This species of snake is one of the few snakes known to pull apart its prey, including crabs, instead of swallowing them whole. It is endangered in Singapore.

Audrey Tan

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Malaysia: 5,100 padi farmers hit hard by El Nino phenomenon

The Star 22 Mar 16;

KEPALA BATAS: The harvest of about 5,100 farmers in north Seberang Prai is in jeopardy because the El Nino phenomenon has caused some 8,500ha of padi fields to dry up.

To make matters worse, it is difficult to irrigate the fields from Sungai Muda because the heatwave is causing the water to evaporate quickly.

Pumping stations in Bumbung Lima and Pinang Tunggal are trying to channel water into the fields but the one in Pinang Tunggal is already suffering from low levels.

“The level in Sungai Muda has to be at least 2m for the pumps to work efficiently and the water level is now 1.8m,” said state Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin.

“We hope the Beris Dam in Sik, Kedah, will continue to release water into Sungai Muda, but that will not be sufficient by itself without rain,” he said after inspecting the irrigation situation in Pinang Tunggal.

He said those padi fields were important and 80ha of them were run by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development for its work and to produce padi seeds.

There were plans to bring in portable pumps to help channel water from Sungai Muda into the fields, Dr Afif said.

“We are also looking into the possibility of cloud seeding over the water catchment areas in Kedah,” he added.

On the effects of the hot spell on rice output, Dr Afif said it was hard to say for sure now, but a similar situation in 2014 saw rice output increase over that of the previous year.

“We got 150,000 metric tonnes of rice that year compared to 130,000 in 2013,” he said.

He hoped that the rains would come in early April but the Meteorological Department said more likely by mid-April.

“Water is precious now, let’s not waste any,” he said.

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Malaysia: Timah Tasoh Dam Register Lowest Water Level Since 1992

Bernama 21 Mar 16;

KANGAR, March 21 (Bernama) -- The current dry spell seems to have affected water catchment and water storage areas in the state since the only dam in Perlis, the Timah Tasoh Lake in Beseri, registered its lowest water level today.

The dam's water level was recorded at 26.78m today, a drop of 2 millimeter, compared with the 26.8m registered yesterday.

Perlis Irrigation and Drainage Department director Abdul Najib Abdullah said the level recorded today was the lowest since 1992 while the critical level has been set at 25.0m.

"The level recorded today is even lower than the El-Nino phenomenon which struck the country resulting in water level at the dam dropping to 27.04m on July 24, 1998," he told Bernama, here today.

The New York Times said scientists began reporting early signs of El Nino conditions early last year, based on changes in surface-water temperatures and atmospheric pressure in the equatorial Pacific near Peru.

By midyear, the World Meteorological Organization declared that El Nino was in full swing and that it was on track to be the strongest such event since 1997-98.

In some parts of the world, the problem has been not enough rain; in others, too much.

Abdul Najib said the dry spell which started in Perlis since December last year had resulted in low water level at the dam which caters for 50 percent of the water supply to Perlis, especially the people of Padang Besar and Kangar.

The Timah Tasoh Lake supplies water to the Perlis population as well as prevents floods from occurring in the state. The lake is 1,300 hectares in area, and can hold 35.3 million litres of water.

It was created when a dam was built on Sungai Korok, about 2.5km below the confluence of Sungai Timah and Sungai Tasoh.

Abdul Najib also urged consumers to be thrifty when using water.


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Malaysia: Battling 276 fires on equinox day

The Star 22 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: On the day of the equinox, firemen were kept busy trying to put out as many as 276 fires due to the heatwave.

The Fire and Rescue Department said it detected 10 major hotspots, all in Pahang and Sabah.

“It was not as bad as February 2014 when we were getting over 1,000 cases a day,” said Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid.

Pahang recorded a hotspot in Pekan and three in Temerloh. There were five hotspots in Pedalaman and one in Sandakan, Sabah.

Soiman said the size of these hotspots were still unclear but said they were detectable by satellites.

He said firemen were called to extinguish 298 fires on Saturday and 276 fires on Sunday.

Perak, Kedah, Sabah and Penang were the most “combustible” states over the weekend, accounting for 51% or 294 fire cases, he said.

He said not a single fire was reported in Kuala Lumpur.

Bush and forest fires made up the most number of cases. There were 210 bush fires and 26 forest fires on Saturday, with all the forest fires located in Sabah.

On Sunday, there were 246 bush fires while the Sabah forest fires were all extinguished, with no new cases. As of 2pm yesterday, most parts of peninsular Malaysia’s west coast recorded moderate air pollutant index readings while Banting recorded an unhealthy reading of 110.

Most parts of the peninsula’s east coast and Sabah and Sarawak recorded healthy API readings.

Malaysia is now experiencing hot and dry weather caused by the El Nino phenomenon and the Malay­sian Meteorological Department has predicted that the situation will only end in May or June.

A sweltering 37°C in four states
The Star 22 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: Perlis and Sabah remain among the hottest states in the country, with Pahang and Penang joining them as the places with 37°C temperatures.

In a statement issued by the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, Batu Embun (Pahang), Chuping (Perlis), Kenin­gau (Sabah) and Prai (Penang) recorded the highest temperatures as of 4pm yesterday.

Temerloh (Pahang), Lubok Mer­bau (Perak), Ipoh (Perak), Kuala Krai (Kelantan) and Alor Setar (Kedah) were hot as well with a recorded temperature of 36°C.

Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau said the sweltering situation is expected to repeat today.

“The haze situation also happened because of the heatwave and human activities such as industry, motorised vehicles and agriculture waste burning.

“Therefore, the public is advised not to do any open burning, especially that involves camping. The public is also advised to limit outdoor activities, especially in the evening,” he said in the state-ment.

A technical committee handling the El Nino and heatwave phe-nomenon had also agreed on the heatwave definition used by the Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia).

MetMalaysia has defined the heatwave in four stages; Level 0 (Observation) below 35°C; Level 1 (Caution) between 35°C and 37°C for three days in a row; Level 2 (Heatwave) over 37°C for three days in a row; and Level 3 (Emergency) over 40°C for three days in a row. Schools will closed from Level 2 onwards.

Seremban enveloped by haze, registers unhealthy API reading
NUR AQIDAH AZIZI & TEOH PEI YING New Straits Times 21 Mar 16;

SEREMBAN: As Malaysians wilt under the scorching sun, the air quality here has turned ‘unhealthy’, registering a reading of 104 on the air pollutant index as of 4pm today.

The air quality in Nilai hovered at the ‘unhealthy’ range, with an API reading of 94.

An hour before that, Nilai recorded an API reading of 115. An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), and 301 and above (hazardous).

Efforts to obtain information on the probable cause of the haze were unsuccessful at press time.

A heat wave is currently sweeping the country, with temperatures reaching the high 30s in the northern states of Kedah and Perlis.

This has raised fears of bush fires breaking out, with the resulting smoke leading to a return of the haze.

For the latest air quality readings, the public can visit

'Heat Wave' Definition Agreed To - MOSTI
Bernama 21 Mar 16;

Datuk Seri Madius Tangau (Bernama file photo)KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 (Bernama) -- The Meeting of the Technical Committee Tackling the El-Nino and Dry Weather today agreed on the definition of heatwave used by the Meteorological Department that is Level 0: Weather below 35C (Monitoring); and Level 1: Maximum temperature between 35C to 37C for three days consecutively (Alert level).

The Minister of Science, Technology and Innovations (MOSTI) Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau said in a statement today that for Level 2 : the maximum temperature exceeds 37C for three days consecutively (declaration of heatwave by MOSTI for other parties to take subsequent action such as the closure of schools and so on); and Level 3 : Temperature exceeds 40C for three days consecutively (Disclosure to the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) and the Prime Minister will declare a state of emergency).

He said the latest weather monitoring by MetMalaysia today as at 4.00 pm in nine locations were Batu Embun, Pahang (37.0C); Chuping, Perlis (37.0C); Keningau, Sabah (37.0C) ; Prai, Penang (37.0C) and Temerloh, Pahang (36.0C).

Meanwhile in Lubok Merbau, Perak (36.0C); Ipoh, Perak (36.0C); Kuala Krai, Kelantan (36.0C); and Alor Setar, Kedah (36.0C).

He said a similar situation was also expected for tomorrow (March 22).

Local haze would also occur due to the hot weather and human activities such as industry, motor vehicles and burning of agricultural waste.

"As such, members of the public are advised against carrying out open burning especially involving camping activities. At the same time, the public are advised to limit outdoor activities during the hot weather especially in the afternoon," he said.


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Malaysia: Schools in Kedah and Perlis closed due to heatwave

The Star 22 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: With the mercury rising, more than 400,000 students in government schools in Kedah and Perlis – the two hottest states in the country – have been ordered to stay home today and tomorrow.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said the ministry would decide tomorrow if the schools would remain closed because of the scorching weather.

“Schools are to close if temperatures exceed 39°C for three consecutive days,” Mahdzir told reporters after being presented with an honorary doctorate in education by Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences.

The ministry, he said, had been closely monitoring the weather and on Saturday, it was found that Kedah and Perlis had recorded temperatures as high as 39.2°C.

According to a statement from the ministry yesterday, the closure in Kedah and Perlis will involve a total of 232 secondary and 621 primary schools.

In all, 413,786 government school students, including preschoolers, are affected.

The two days need not be replaced, it said.

Teachers and staff, however, will have to report for duty as usual.

“All teachers and staff must be in schools to carry out their duties such as meetings, planning their teaching and learning activities and other routine work which does not involve students,” the statement said.

The ministry added that the state and district Education Departments would monitor the situation.

Students come prepared with plenty of water
The Star 22 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: As classes resu­med after a week-long break, many schools suspended outdoor activities and students came prepared with plenty of water to stay hydrated during the hot weather.

Sarruesh Gunandran, a Form Three student of SMK Sri Permata here, said he now finished up to two litres of water in school while trying to minimise rigorous activities.

“I try not to sweat too much, so I keep myself out of the sun. It’s good that it has been a bit cloudy these days so it’s not too hot,” said the 15-year-old.

His Form Four schoolmate Crista Anora Roche said to withstand the heat she had been eating more fruits and vitamins in addition to bringing her 1.5-litre water bottle to school.

“Besides constantly drinking water, I now take a lot of apples, oranges and vitamins to make sure I don’t fall sick,” said Crista, 16.

School principal Jamilah Yusop said all the students returned to school yesterday but one needed to go home after feeling dizzy.

“Apart from that, none of the parents have been overly worried by the heatwave nor kept their children at home,” she said, adding that all outdoor activities had been postponed.

She said the school had advised students to drink more water.

Over at SK Sri Kelana here, principal Musa Mohd Walid said attendance was good and no pupil had fallen ill because of the hot weather.

“It was 28°C early in the morning and there has been no complaint of extreme heat,” he said.

The school, he added, had put off activities under the sun.

Musa said reminders were sent out to parents advising them to make sure that their children brought sufficient water to school.

Two girls in Kulim collapse in searing equinox weather
The Star 22 Mar 16;

ALOR SETAR: The equinox “knocked out” two girls, one in Form Three and another, a 19-year-old undergraduate, in Kulim.

The 15-year-old girl fainted after school and was rushed to a clinic on Sunday.

“She went to the playground near her home and fainted while playing with friends.

“The undergraduate collapsed at home,” said state Health director Datuk Dr Norhizan Ismail, adding that both cases were diagnosed as heat exhaustion.

“The older girl’s kampung house has zinc roof sheets and that could have caused the heat to build up inside her house.

“By late afternoon, it was too much for her and family members rushed her the Kulim hospital,” Dr Norhizan said.

He advised Kedahans to stay out of the sun and drink lots of water.

Meanwhile, some parents here have already stopped sending their children to school, ahead of the government order to close schools in Kedah and Perlis.

Grandfather Ang Choon Hai was concerned over the heat as he waited for his grandson to come out of school.

“We didn’t let him go to school on Sunday because he was having the sniffles.

“But he pleaded to us that he wanted to go to school today,” said the 72-year-old yesterday as he waited outside his grandson’s school – SJK (C) Keat Hwa Cawangan K in Jalan Keat Hwa.

State Education Committee chairman Datuk Tajul Urus Mat Zain said many schools reported a slight decline in attendance.

“The Education Ministry made the right move in closing all schools and urging parents to keep their children indoors.

“It’s sports season for most local schools but they have been told to postpone all their sporting events.

“The schools have also been advised to stop all their other outdoor activities,” he said.

Keat Hwa Cawangan K senior assistant Lim Poh Ee said 34 students were absent on Sunday and 23 yesterday.

Malaysian Meteorological Department’s weather stations in Alor Setar recorded a temperature of 36ºC at 4pm yesterday while Chuping in Perlis was still sweltering at 37ºC. By 6pm, however, Alor Setar’s temperature reading had dropped to 33ºC and Chuping 36ºC.

A 48-year-old teacher from SK Lubuk Buntar in Serdang, Kedah, collapsed and died while delivering her speech during the school assembly.

Suzana Ishak was speaking at the assembly when she suddenly complained of dizziness and asked her colleagues to help her finish her speech.

Moments later, she collapsed, and was immediately sent to the Parit Buntar hospital, where she was pronounced dead on Sunday.

A post-mortem, however, found that she had died of heart attack and not from heatstroke as reported on social media.

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Malaysia: Gaharu trees illegally harvested

RUBEN SARIO The Star 22 Mar 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Even a guarded park near Sandakan town is not safe from illegal gaharu or agarwood collectors who have managed to carry out their activities there.

The illegal agarwood collectors have harvested at least three gaharu trees at the 148ha Sandakan Rainforest Park recently.

“We believe they used axes or small saws to extract the agarwood from these trees sometime in the mid-morning when our staff are not in the area,” Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said when interviewed.

Mannan added that the department managing the park, located about 9km from Sandakan town, had stepped up patrols, including deploying sniffer dogs.

“We are worried that if illegal gaharu collectors can come in, what about poachers?”

The park, he noted, was also home to small wildlife, including pangolins as well as sambar and mousedeer.

Last week, Mannan led a fruit tree planting programme at the park for the wildlife there.

The park, locally known as Kebun Cina or the Chinese orchard, was gazetted as an Amenity Forest Reserve in January 2007.

Mannan said the Sabah government was committed to conserving 30% of the state’s landmass or 2.2 million hectares as totally protected forests. At present, some 1.8 million hectares of the forests have been classified as totally protected.

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Indonesia: Fires burn hundreds of hectares in Riau

The Jakarta Post 22 Mar 16;

The Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency Edwar Sanger said on Monday that fires had destroyed hundreds of hectares of peatland in the province since the middle of last month, but that 706 hectares had been extinguished.

Edwar said that the fires were due to an dry season hitting areas such as Dumai, Meranti Islands, Bengkalis, Pelalawan, Siak, Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu and Indragiri Hilir earlier than western parts of the province.

He said that the worst fire had burned 300 hectares of peatland in Meranti, but it had been extinguished.

He said no hotspots were detected in the province on Monday, thanks to rain and work of firefighters.

However, he said, the agency predicted that the dry season would worsen in the future, increasing the possibility of fires.

To anticipate fires, he said that his agency had asked the National Disaster Mitigation Agency to send helicopters to help extinguish fires through water bombing operations.

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Indonesia: Illegal fishing threatens coral reef in Sawu Sea

Markus Makur, 21 Mar 16;

Dynamite fishing practices allegedly perpetrated by fishermen from West Nusa Tenggara threaten to cause serious damage to coral reef in the Sawu Sea National Park in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara.

A joint patrol team involving the Indonesian Military and Manggarai Police personnel detained a fishing vessel and arrested its crew for allegedly carrying out blast fishing practices in waters around Mules Island in the Sawu Sea National Park, Satarmese district, Manggarai regency, last week.

Kupang National Waters Conservation Agency chief Yesaya Mau told on Saturday that the blast fishing was allegedly perpetrated by fishermen from West Nusa Tenggara, not local fishermen from Flores Island.

“We have sent letters to the police requesting that they arrest all blast fishing perpetrators and bring them to justice. Blast fishing occurs frequently in the area and, if it continues, the practice will damage the ecosystem in the Sawu Sea National Park,” said Yesaya.

He further said that it had been quite difficult for the Kupang National Waters Conservation Agency to monitor fishermen due to its limited facilities. To prevent destructive fishing practices, the agency cooperated with the police, military and various local administration.

“The Sawu Sea National Park, which covers 10 regencies in East Nusa Tenggara, is a unique place that boasts a whale crossover area. Many whales appear in Lamalera waters in Lembata regency. Our task is to protect all ecosystems in this national park,” he said.

Manggarai regent Deno Kamelus told in Ruteng on Saturday that such blast fishing practices, perpetrated in the Sawu Sea National Park by fishermen from outside Manggarai, had taken place for a long time. Fishermen from West Nusa Tenggara, were recently arrested by a joint police and military team for dynamite fishing in the area, he emphasized.

Kamelus said the central government and the Kupang National Waters Conservation Agency must increase sea patrol activities in the area. The conservation agency also should coordinate with the Indonesian Navy based in Labuan Bajo, West Manggarai, to carry out routine patrols, adding that a vessel had been prepared for the Navy to carry out routine patrols.

“The Sawu Sea National Park must continue to coordinate with police and military personnel to increase monitoring activities in the area,” he said.

The regent said blast fishing could damage coral reefs and killed sea biota. “Let’s save the Sawu Sea National Park from blast fishing. I hope all village heads and fishermen from around the national park will work cooperatively and inform the appropriate authorities if they spot fishermen perpetrating blast fishing,” said Kamelus. (ebf)(+)

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Indonesia: Birth of calves brings hope to Javan rhino

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 22 Mar 16;

Seven Javan rhino calves were born at Ujung Kulon park last year, the largest number of Javan rhinos born in a single year in the country, raising hopes for the future of the world’s rarest rhino after years of population decline.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said that the discovery of the calves was uplifting, given the country’s efforts to increase the rhino population.

“Actually, we thought that the Javan rhino would become extinct but apparently there were [calves being born]. How can we not be happy? We will ask President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo to give names to the four calves while the other three will be named by the [local] regent,” she told a press conference on Monday.

The Javan rhino, whose folds of loose skin give it the appearance of wearing armor plating, once numbered in the thousands and roamed across Southeast Asia.

Poaching and human encroachment on its habitat have led to a dramatic population decline, as with other rhino species around the world, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had said the Javan rhino is “making its last stand”.

Poaching in particular represents a severe threat, with rhino horns fetching high prices on the black market for use in traditional Asian medicine.

The IUCN classifies the Javan rhino as “critically endangered”.

Ujung Kulon park chief Mohammad Haryono said that the discovery of the calves brought the Javan rhino population to 63, all of which live in Ujung Kulon.

“Never before have so many Javan rhino calves been born in a single year. In the past, it was always fewer than five calves,” he told The Jakarta Post. “The newborn calves look healthy judging from their bodies, which are not skinny.”

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Ujung Kulon project leader Yuyun Kurniawan shared the sentiment, saying that the birth of the seven calves was significant.

“If you compare it with the existing population of Javan rhinos, then the seven calves are very significant. The government itself targeted a 10 percent increase in the population [of 25 endangered animals] by 2019, but in a short span of time, there could be a significant increase in Javan rhinos,” he told the Post.

Yuyun said that the birth of the Javan rhino calves was also astounding, considering that the species are solitary animals and thus it was harder for a Javan rhino male and a female to mate.

“They’re not as territorial as tigers but they are indeed solitary animals,” he said.

Haryono attributed the increasing population of Javan rhinos to the establishment of the sanctuary within the park, encompassing 5,100 hectares of lush rainforest and freshwater streams.

“In the eastern part of Ujung Kulon peninsula, there’s a sanctuary that wasn’t inhabited by rhinos in the past. It was damaged but was rehabilitated. We got rid of encroachers and invasive plants there,” he said.

The animals had previously been living mainly in one corner of the park, an area of stunning natural beauty, but the sanctuary expanded the area suitable for them and relocated farmers to reduce the chances of animal-human conflict, according to Haryono.

As the sanctuary grew more habitable for the rhinos, their reproduction also intensified, he added.

Besides Javan rhinos, the government is also trying to save Sumatran rhinos, which are also on the brink of extinction due to illegal hunting for their horns.

Unlike the single-horned Javan rhinoceros, the Sumatran rhinoceros has two horns, with the bigger one able to grow to 79 centimeters and the smaller one can reach 10 cm.

On March 12, a Sumatran rhino was captured by a pit trap in a production forest in West Kutai, East Kalimantan. It was first detected there in early 2013, the first confirmed report of the species’s existence in Kalimantan in the previous 43 years.

“There used to be around 200 Sumatran rhinos in Sumatra but now there are only around 100. So the discovery of even one Sumatran rhino is very scientifically important,” WWF Indonesia CEO Efransjah said.

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Thailand: Alarm over Rayong fish deaths

Bangkok Post 19 Mar 16;

RAYONG — Fishermen and activists in this eastern province want an investigation into the exact cause of mass fish deaths, which authorities insist are part of a natural phenomenon that occurs every year.

However, some local people suspect waste discharged from factories at the Map Ta Phut industrial estate could be linked to the thousands of dead fish that have washed up on Ta Kuan beach.

"In all my 60 years I've never seen such massive fish deaths," said Lamom Boonyong, chairman of the Ban Paknam small-scale fishermen's group. "Most of the dead fish are species that are quite resilient. Among them are pla salit hin (rabbitfish) and pla singto (lionfish).

"We're sceptical about the cause of these marine life deaths. We question why only fish at Ta Kuan beach are dying. If it's a natural phenomenon as claimed, more fish living along the (Rayong) coast must have died."

The fishermen and representatives of activist groups met on Friday with Vitoon Uthim, deputy governor of the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) at Map Ta Phut to call for an investigation.

Mr Lamom said the deaths occurred between March 13 and 16 and the dead fish had a combined weight of more than 2,000 kilogrammes.

Earlier, authorities said a plankton bloom was thought to be one of the causes. Supawat Kanadireklarp, director of the Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Center, said a plankton bloom can deprive the surrounding water of oxygen as the microscopic organisms die off and decay in large numbers.

Mr Supawat made the remark on March 16 as he led officials of the state agency to the beach to collect plankton and sea water samples for testing
Penchome Sae-Tang, director of the Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand Foundation, urged authorities to disclose the names of factories that released waste into the Pradu Bay area off Ta Kuan beach in order to clear up doubts over the cause of the fish deaths.

Arpa Wangkiart, assistant dean of the Department of Environmental Engineering at Rangsit University, said the fish deaths were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to pollution at Map Ta Phut, and this was not the first incident. Similar incidents had occurred in the Map Ta Phut area in the past five or six years, she said.

She said authorities needed to take a deeper look into the causes and should not keep saying that a plankton bloom was the likely cause. Finding out what factors led to plankton booms in the first place might shed light on whether the operations of industries in the area played a role, she added.

Mr Vitoon of the IEAT insisted the fish deaths were a natural phenomenon and that factories at Map Ta Phut limited waste discharges to the amounts set by law. The quality of water at the industrial estate had been checked around the clock, he added.

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Go wild to protect food security, says study

Mark Kinver BBC News 21 Mar 16;

More needs to be done to ensure wild relatives of our key food crops are conserved for future generations, a study has said.

Researchers are concerned the genetic diversity of these vital plants are not being adequately stored in gene banks.

They say characteristics such as drought or heat resilience could be lost forever unless action is taken to preserve these genetic traits.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Plants.

An international team of scientists found that "the diversity of crop wild relatives is poorly represented in gene banks".

In their assessment, they identified more than 70% of 1,036 wild relatives of 81 important food crops as a high priority for further collection.

They added that 95% were "insufficiently represented in regard to the fill range of geographic and ecological variation in their native distributions".

"The gene banks of the world are not, at the moment, doing as good of a job as they could be doing at maintaining and making available the diversity of crops' wild relatives," explained co-author Luigi Guarino, director of science and programs at the Crop Trust.

"There are very valid reasons why the are under represented in gene banks. They are difficult to collect, they are difficult to maintain, the collection and maintenance is expensive as well. Other things have had higher priority, such as cultivating material."

"However, with the threats that are facing biodiversity in general, and this particular subset of biodiversity, it is becoming increasingly urgent that adequate attention is paid to crop wild relatives," he told BBC News.

Going, going, gone?

There are in excess of 1,700 institutional crop gene banks around the world, storing millions of samples, otherwise known as accessions,
Their main role is to preserve genetic material, primarily in the form of seeds and cuttings, and to make this material available for future research and breeding.

These crop gene bank play a pivotal role in global food security as the world faces the challenge of feeding a growing population, changes to regions' climate and growing conditions.

Mr Guarino explained that crop wild relatives offered a "huge reservoir of diversity".

"Over the history of agriculture - from Neolithic times onwards - farmers have been whittling down the diversity available in wild plants to focus on a particular subset of that diversity that we call the domesticated crop," he said.

"This domesticated crop is just a selection from a much wider diversity of genes, traits and adaptations that are out there still in the ancestors and relatives of the crops we use today.

"They are out there but for how long? We know that there are lots of threats waiting in the background affecting biodiversity, such as land-use change, urbanisation, deforestation and climate change itself."

The study, lead by Nora Castanedo-Alvarez from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and Colin Khoury from Wageningen University, suggested that advances in technological and knowledge of the plant world would mean that the genetic reservoir of crop wild relatives would be increasingly utilised.

However, this was based on the assumption that that the material would be readily available to researchers.

"What we argue in the paper is that one of the key things that we could do is to make sure that we have adequate representation of the diversity that is available in this reservoir of crop wild relatives available to us for use in gene banks," observed Mr Guarino.

"We also need to conserve this diversity in nature itself, allowing it to continue evolving. This is difficult to do, especially under climate change which is already causing movement of species polewards and to higher elevations."

The researchers said the time to act was now while it w as still possible to harvest the crop wild relatives and the potentially vital genetic resources.

They concluded: "A systematic effort was needed to improve the conservation and availability of crop wild relatives for use in plant breeding."

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Ecuador creates Galápagos marine sanctuary to protect sharks

Belgium-sized area around northern islands of Darwin and Wolf will be off-limits for fishing in bid to conserve sharks and unique habitat
Jessica Aldred The Guardian 21 Mar 16;

Ecuador has created a new marine sanctuary in the Galápagos Islands that will offer protection to the world’s greatest concentration of sharks.

Some 15,000 square miles (38,000 sq km) of the waters around Darwin and Wolf - the most northern islands - will be made off limits to all fishing to conserve the sharks that congregate there and the ecosystem on which they rely.

Several other smaller “no-take” areas have also been created throughout the volcanic archipelago, a biodiversity hotspot around 600 miles (1,000km) off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.

The announcement of the new reserve, which is the same size as Belgium, means that 32% of the waters around Galápagos will now be protected from fishing and other extractive industries. It will be incorporated into the existing 80,000-square mile marine reserve created in 1998.

Until now, small-scale local fishing cooperatives had been allowed to operate in the area, but the government says additional protection is now essential as the habitat has come under increased pressure from global warming and incursions by industrial trawlers and illegal shark fin hunters.

More than 34 different species of shark can be found off the shores of the Galápagos including the largest shark species, the filter-feeding whale shark, the migratory hammerhead shark and the Galápagos shark.

The world’s shark populations are in steep decline. Scientists estimate that about 100 million sharks are killed every year, representing 6-8% of all sharks and far outstripping the ability of populations to recover.

The government hopes the new protection will support a breeding ground that can allow sharks to grow to full size and repopulate the world’s oceans. It hopes the shark sanctuary, together with the existing marine reserve, will strengthen international pressure for ocean conservation, action on shark finning and more ambitious action on climate change.

Environment minister, Daniel Ortega Pacheco, said: “These pristine waters around the Galápagos archipelago are precious not just for Ecuadorians but for the whole balance of our ocean systems. Shark populations in steep decline around the world come here to rest and breed and we want to guarantee complete sanctuary for them.”

The Galápagos Islands were the source of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and are seen as a priceless “living laboratory” for scientists.

The combination of cold and warm ocean currents make it one of the most biodiverse marine habitats in the world, supporting almost 3,000 species of fish, invertebrates and marine mammals, endemic seabirds and the world’s only marine iguana. Because of their remote and isolated nature, many species - such as the famous giant tortoises - are found only in the Galápagos and have not changed much since prehistoric times.

Almost 99% of the land area of the islands, which are recognised by Unesco as a world heritage site, are protected as a nature reserve with no habitation allowed and strictly-regulated tourism. The existing marine reserve - one of the world’s largest - was created 18 years ago to protect the unique habitat from industrial fishing.

At the launch of the newest reserve, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, will say: “The establishment of this marine sanctuary represents a major breakthrough, not least because it hosts the largest biomass of sharks in the world, which is an indicator of the pristine condition of the site as well as the importance of conservation.”

The scheme has been supported by the National Geographic Foundation, which has offered compensation to the local fishing cooperatives. The government says evidence from other no-take zones around the world shows there is net benefit for local fishermen through an increase in fish numbers outside the protected zone.

A 2015 economic study calculated that the tourism value of a shark over its lifetime in the Galápagos is US$5.4m (£3.75,) while a dead shark brings in less than US$200.

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