Best of our wild blogs: 4 Apr 16

Milkfish (Chanos chanos) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Monday Morgue

Read more!

The green house effect -- recycling in Singapore

Lea Wee, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Apr 16;

One of the family rules found on the refrigerator in the home of Ms June Lim reads: "Anything that can be reused or recycled cannot be thrown away."

She and her family do not pay lip service to being green. The 31-year- old mother of three and her husband have a recycling bin in their three-room HDB flat in Bedok for used paper, plastic, metal and glass.

Ms Lim would also take some other kinds of items - such as electronic products, ink cartridges and lightbulbs - to designated recycling points in other parts of the island. Unwanted clothes and household items are given away.

From the age of two, Ms Lim's sons - now aged eight, six and three - have been taught to throw unwanted items, starting with plastic and paper packaging, into the recycling bin.

Over the past three years, she has been an active member on the sgfreecycle Facebook group, which aims to reduce waste by connecting people who are giving things away to those who are looking for those things. She is also a member of Singapore Glove Project, where people meet to pick up litter on their walks or jogs.

Ms Lim, a freelance actress and emcee, says she was brought up by her mother to be frugal and the habit stuck. A YouTube video she watched a few years ago about seabirds dying after ingesting plastic from the sea also left an impression on her.

"It made me want to do my part for the environment," she says.

But she and her family appear to be an exception to the norm among households here. Domestic waste, mostly from households, made up 2.1 million tonnes out of the 7.5 million tonnes of waste generated in 2014. But while the overall recycling rate of all types of waste is around 60 per cent, only 19 per cent of domestic waste gets a new life.

Mr Eugene Tay, founder of environmental group Zero Waste SG, believes that few households recycle because it is convenient for residents to just throw their waste down rubbish chutes.

He says: "They might not know where their waste ends up or understand the need to recycle. Also, residents pay a fixed waste disposal fee regardless of the amount they throw away."

But families have a role to play in boosting the recycling rate here.

Mr Tay says that as the top three types of waste in Singapore are plastics, food and paper, families can start by minimising these types of waste in the first place.

To reduce plastic waste, they can buy products with less plastic packaging and avoid using takeaway disposable containers and cutlery.

To avoid buying too much food, families can draw up a shopping list of what food to buy before they go shopping. They should also store their food properly to minimise spoilage, and keep and cook any leftover food.

To reduce paper waste, Mr Tay says families can switch to online bills and statements, use cloth for cleaning instead of paper towels, and recycle paper.

For Ms Agatha Lee, 42, and her husband, practising the three Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle is a no-brainer. She says: "We don't want a home full of things we don't need."

The family keep their food waste to a minimum, use recyclable shopping bags and repair or upcycle old clothes.

Their 11-year-old son knows how to sew and has made new shorts out of old trousers. He also knows how to replace the elastic band in his shorts when it is stretched loose.

Ms Lee, who also runs an environmental website, Green Issues by Agy, says: "Practising the three Rs also saves money and the Earth."

Read more!

To prevent haze, financial players, smallholders have outsized role to play

SIMON TAY AND LAU XIN YI Today Online 4 Mar 16;

Signs warn that haze may soon return to the skies of South-east Asia. Fires have already broken out in Riau and a state of emergency declared earlier this month. Yet, while some fear the worst, the declaration shows the urgent attention that the Indonesian President Joko Widodo is bringing to the issue.

Rather than wait until fires rage out of control, the emergency was declared early to activate more resources and respond swiftly on the ground. This is pivotal. As the severe haze suffered last year demonstrates, timely action by governments is critical.

In these past months, the Jokowi administration has demonstrated considerable political will to lead on the challenge. His government further took an unprecedented decision to revoke the licences of three companies that were implicated in the fires. In Singapore, the National Environment Agency also triggered the first use of the 2014 Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to conduct investigations of companies that were reasonably thought to have a role in the fires.

Yet, while governments must lead, no one should expect a silver bullet or short cut to the long-recurring problem.

There are diverse actors in the long supply chain in the resource sector. Closest to the ground are the small-scale farmers in distant provinces as well as major producers with giant plantations — some bigger in area than Singapore. There are also manufacturers, retailers and consumers as well as the financial institutions that fund businesses in these sectors. Each must be duly addressed with the right mix of rules as well as incentives.

Take the case of small-scale farmers, who are often singled out for clearing land using slash-and-burn methods. Some say that they have no alternative to this long standing practice. Yet, this may now be changing.

In mid March, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs visited Central Kalimantan, the worst-hit province in last year’s haze crisis, and noted steps being taken to support smallholders moving towards sustainable production. This includes not causing deforestation or degrading peatlands as well as no burning when clearing land or seizures of indigenous peoples’ lands.

Institutions such as the Institut Penelitian Inovasi Bumi and Earth Innovation Institute are collaborating with the provincial government to ensure that all palm oil produced and processed in the province should be certified as sustainable.

At the Seruyan district, smallholders repeatedly raised cost concerns as they seek to increase their productivity. The seeds and fertilisers they need are expensive, relative to their limited income, and these small-scale farmers often have little or no access to capital and loans. Schemes by governments and also by larger companies who buy from these small-scale farmers are in place but need to be ramped up.

Further assistance should be expected by those at the other end of the spectrum that supports the resource industry — the large institutions of finance and trade in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Their lending decisions can be levers to steer large companies and their suppliers to more sustainable practices. While many international banks have already taken environmental concerns into account when approving loans, this remains rare in our region.


Initial steps are now being taken. In February, Bank Mandiri — the largest in Indonesia — announced that they will no longer approve any credit proposals to finance development of new oil palm plantations on peatlands, which have often been the source of the worst and most persistent fires and haze. While this is positive, few other banks give sufficient consideration to sustainability.

A 2015 survey by Responsibank, a coalition of Indonesian environmental groups, revealed that only two of the 12 banks examined apply sustainability principles as an integral part of their decision-making. This can be accelerated.

The Indonesian Financial Services Authority (OJK) is driving efforts to green the financial sector, with a roadmap for the development of the sustainable finance sector.

The effort is being taken in tandem with key government ministries in the resource sector, including the Ministry of Forestry and Environment and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. One effort made by the OJK’s initiative is to provide easier and quicker access to finance for renewable energy projects.

At home too, Singapore’s financial sector has recently demonstrated more interest in sustainable financing. The Association of Banks in Singapore released a set of guidelines on responsible financing while the Singapore Exchange will soon make it mandatory for listed companies to publish their sustainability reports on a “comply or explain” basis.

Yet, even as financial regulators take a first step, they cannot act alone.

The relevant government ministries as well as major financial players and investors must be engaged. More dialogue is needed amongst stakeholders to promote greater trust and also the understanding and capacity in the financial sector to deal with issues of sustainability in the resource sector.

The major resource producers must do their part. So must the major manufacturers who buy and use these resources. New efforts are however required now for small-scale farmers on one hand and, at the other end of the spectrum, the major financial institutions and regulators.

Preventing a recurrence of the worst haze, as suffered in the last two years, is not impossible. The resource sector in our region can be greened. But the challenges are complex and will require consistent and persistent actions at different levels and by very different actors and institutions.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Simon Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) and Lau Xin Yi is policy research analyst in the SIIA’s Sustainability Program. The SIIA will host the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources on April 15, with specific discussions on smallholders, the financial sector, major producers and governments.

Read more!

Malaysia: Extreme haze forces 77 schools to close for two days

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 1 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Seventy-seven schools in south-western Sabah are closed for two days after thick smoke enveloped the area amidst simmering peat fires from the Binsuluk Forest Reserve in the Klias peninsula.

Schools in Beaufort (53), Papar (10) and Kuala Penyu (14) were closed as the Air Pollutant Index (API) reached a very unhealthy reading of 279.

In some areas, the visibility was so bad that drivers could only see 20m ahead in the thick haze.

Sabah Education Department acting director Maimunah Suhaibul said the schools, involving over 20,000 students, would reopen tomorrow should conditions improve.

Although the Department of Environment (DOE) does not have a permanent station monitoring the air quality in Beaufort, the reading was taken off a portable machine.

Sabah DOE could not be reached and there were no updates on its website over the API and haze situa­tion.

“It is difficult to breathe. You can smell smoke the moment you walk out,” said housewife Rohani Rowel, 30.

Adding that she was keeping her children indoors, she said the situation deteriorated two days ago des­pite hazy conditions the past week.

Clerk Mazniah Mazta said visibility was sometimes less than 20m and that it was quite difficult to drive.

“The situation improved slightly but the haze came back. I think it is because of the winds,” she said, adding that like many people in Kuala Penyu, they were staying indoors.

As at press time, state Health Department director Christina Rundi had yet to issue any advice or statement if there was an increase in the number of respiratory cases in Beaufort and other parts of Sabah.

Firemen have been battling do­zens of jungle, bush and orchard fires on a daily basis as the dry spell – induced by El Nino – entered its third month in Sabah.

On Saturday, firemen said they had brought the Binsuluk forest peat fires under control after a series of aerial water bombings.

However, they warned that un­­der­growth fires could flare up from time to time.

Despite hazy conditions in Sabah’s west coast, including Kota Kinabalu and parts of Keningau, API readings there were at healthy levels.

77 schools in Sabah to close tomorrow due to unhealthy air index
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 3 Apr 16;

BEAUFORT: The Sabah Education Department has ordered 77 primary and secondary schools in three districts of Papar, Beaufort and Kuala Penyu to be closed tomorrow due to the unhealthy air index recorded there.

State education deputy director Maimunah Suhaibul announced this is after making a working visit to two schools in Membakut, Sekolah Kebangsaan Binsuluk and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Membakut 2, which are also affected.

"Our reading is different from the normal Air Pollutant Index (API) caused by haze because we have heavy smoke caused by open fires.

Only yesterday, Membakut recorded an index of 279 due to the rampant open fires.

"We will review the order to close schools on a day to day basis depending on the readings.

So far, no other schools in other districts reported reaching 200 on the index.

"If there is an open fire near a school and there is thick smoke, the principal or headmaster can make the decision to close school so long as they inform the district education office first," she said.

2,019 open fires recorded in Sabah this year
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 3 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Approximately 2,019 open fires were recorded in Sabah to date since the start of the year.

According to the State Fire and Rescue Department statistics, March alone recorded 1,170 incidents while the first two days of April recorded 120 cases - with the Papar and Penampang fire stations receiving the most number of reports.

The recent El Nino phenomenon which began more than two months ago has led to a dry spell in several areas across the nation.

Sabah's open fire cases were mostly forest fires, followed by bush fires and blazes at plantations.

Read more!

Malaysia: Heat takes a toll on the greens


PETALING JAYA: The hot spell is taking a toll on vegetables, fruits and flowers as well.

Not only are the prices of the greens expected to rise, the quality of the produce is also likely to suffer.

The lack of rainfall, shortage of water supply and hot weather caused the production level of vegetables to drop, said Cameron High­lands Vegetable Growers Associa­tion secretary Chay Ee Mong.

In March, there was already a drop between 10% and 20% in ve­­getable production.

“The quality of the vegetables is also affected. Our vegetables are grown in the highlands so the rising temperature is not suitable.

“In certain areas, there is a lack of water and irrigation problems. Also, there has been no rain over the past six weeks.

“If there is still no rain, there will be (more) shortages but the effects will be felt (by consumers) maybe in a month or two,” said Chay.

Cameron Highlands usually produces at least 600 metric tonnes of vegetables daily.

Chay said the rising temperature had also caused pest problems, leading to poor quality vegetables.

Some leafy vegetables such as sawi and kangkung are cheap as they are produced in the lowlands and are not affected by the hot weather.

“Only certain vegetables like the French beans and cabbages will be more expensive,” he said.

French beans, which used to cost RM3 to RM4 per kilo are now more than RM5 a kilo while the price of cabbage, that used to be between RM1.20 and RM1.50, is now more than RM2.

Cameron Highlands produces about 20 types of vegetables that include tomatoes, spring onions, watercress, radish and celery.

The production of fruits was also affected by the dry spell, said Selangor Fruit Farmers Association secretary Hoh Peng Keong.

Hoh said production was expected to drop further next month due to the weather.

Similar to vegetables, he said there was a drop in quality of the fruits harvested.

Asked on the prices, Hoh said that there was a possibility of a price hike but it would also depend on market forces.

“If there is a shortage of supply and there is demand, the prices will increase.

“At the same time, if the quality produced is not that good, people may not buy them,” said Hoh.

Cameron Highlands Floricultu­rists Association president Lee Peng Fo also blamed the hot weather and lack of water supply for a 10% to 20% drop in the production of flo­wers there.

Lee, however, said the prices of flowers would not increase.

“The prices will maintain for now,” he added.

Pomelos taking a pummelling in the heat
IVAN LOH The Star 4 Apr 16;

IPOH: Farmers in the Tambun area here are not pruning their pomelo trees as they do not want them to flower, and then wither and die in this hot weather.

Tambun Pomelo Growers Asso­ciation chairman Chin Too Kam said the production of pomelos had now fallen drastically and the price of the fruits was expected to go up.

Chin said most farmers in the area were expecting about a 40% drop in yield of the fruits in the coming months, between June and September.

He said pomelo growers were finding it hard to grow the fruits due to the hot weather.

“Many are not pruning their trees as they do not want them to flower. It’s not easy as it will incur extra costs on fertilisers and water, and there’s also the risk of the quality of the fruits being affected,” he added.

He said the lack of rainfall would affect the size of the pomelos.

While the fruits could fetch a good price, he said the production cost would be higher.

“It is a risk and we could end up making losses,” he said, adding that most of the growers preferred to slow down production.

Although there was no change in price for now, he added that it could go up soon.

“The price has remained the same since Chinese New Year,” he said.

Vegetable prices soar in Malaysia amid heatwave
Prices of greens have risen in Malaysia - some as much as 50 per cent, sellers at a local market say - as the country's vegetables wither under the extended spell of hot weather.
Melissa Goh, Malaysia Bureau Chief, Channel NewsAsia 5 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The ongoing hot spell in Malaysia has taken a toll on the local produce - and falling supplies have led to rising prices, vegetable sellers at the country's capital say.

Tomatoes, chillies, French beans and cabbages produced in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands have seen their prices gone up by more than 20 per cent, partly because of the current heatwave, according to vegetable sellers at a neighbourhood wet market on Tuesday (Apr 5).

"It's not 10 to 20 per cent; it's 50 per cent," said K Kanesan, a vegetable seller. "If the hot weather continues for another 2 to 3 months, it'll be very, very bad."

The hot spell has also reduced the quality of vegetables as well as fruits in the market, some shoppers told Channel NewsAsia. Many complained that the produce is not as good as before, particularly pomelos and papayas produced locally - they are smaller and not as sweet, the consumers said.

"Some of the vegetables are very dry, but we have to take them because we have to eat, right? What to do?" said a woman at the market.

Farmers and traders have voiced their hopes that the authorities will help ease their plight by launching measures to solve the water shortage, such as cloud-seeding and improving the irrigation network.

- CNA/pp

Vegetable prices rise on heatwave
Melissa Lin Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Apr 16;

Farms in Malaysia were initially able to cope with the dry spell by using water from reservoirs to grow their crops. However, the prolonged drought has dried up reservoirs, causing the production of vegetables to fall.

The heatwave in the region has led to more costly Malaysian greens at wet markets here.

Prices of cucumbers, long beans, bittergourds and brinjals have risen by 10 per cent to 20 per cent since last week, while French beans and tomatoes now cost 30 per cent to 40 per cent more, according to Mr Jerry Tan, assistant secretary of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association.

At a wet market stall in Yishun, the price of Malaysian-grown chye sim has gone up from $2.80 per kg two weeks ago to $3.50 this week. Kangkung was selling at $3.30 per kg, up from $2.50.

While Malaysia has been suffering from a dry spell for the past month - with the heatwave causing schools to be closed for two days - farms there were initially able to cope by using water from reservoirs to grow their crops, according to the association.

However, the prolonged drought has dried up reservoirs, causing production of vegetables to fall.

The growth rate of vegetables slows significantly when the temperature rises above 35 deg C, according to Mr Tai Seng Yee, executive director of Zenxin Agri-Organic Food, which has farms in Johor and Cameron Highlands.

His farms now produce around four tonnes of vegetables a day, about a 20 per cent drop from before the heatwave. However, he has yet to raise the price of his produce which is sold at Cold Storage and Giant supermarkets here.

"We continue to maintain our prices since organic vegetables are already priced at a premium," he said.

Supermarket chains, which tend to have more bargaining power because they buy in bulk, have yet to be affected. FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Cold Storage said prices and supply of their Malaysian greens remain stable for now.

Meanwhile, prices of kai lan and chye sim from China have almost doubled from a year ago, with importers blaming the cold snap that hit the country earlier this year.

The cold can freeze crops, while rain can cause plants to rot and wither faster than usual.

Prices of China-grown garlic have gone up by about 30 per cent to 50 per cent at supermarkets here, The Straits Times reported last week.

Despite the weather woes, consumers do not have to worry that there will not be enough vegetables to go round as importers can get supplies from other countries, said Mr Tan.

"Once our stock drops below a 'safe' level, we will activate supply from other countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia and India," he said.

Prices of these vegetables, however, will be higher than those of Malaysian vegetables as it costs more to transport them to Singapore.

Housewife Tee You Na, 64, said: "If I like the vegetables, I will still buy, never mind if it is more expensive."

Read more!

Malaysia: Johor -- Use water sparingly

YEE XIANG YUN The Star 4 Apr 16;

JOHOR BARU: The consumption of water is far higher in Johor compared to Singapore, and is more than the amount stipulated by the United Nations.

SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd production and distribution general manager Elias Ismail said that Johor Baru especially, recorded high water usage due to the vast number of developments taking place in the city.

He said that the average water usage in Johor per day was 220 litres per person compared to Singapore’s average of 155 litres per head.

“Our water usage is quite high compared to our more disciplined neighbour and this is mostly due to the huge demand for water from ongoing developments.

“Besides that, the lifestyle and attitude of the people have to do with the high water consumption and we are trying to bring down the water usage to an average of 180 litres per individual,” he said.

The United Nations, he said, had set the standard water requirement for a person at 165 litres a day, he told reporters at the World Water Day celebration in Hutan Bandar on Saturday.

Elias said that Singapore’s lower water consumption could be due to its high water tariff rate, which was probably the reason that they used water sparingly.

“If we were to raise the rates, the people will get angry but it does not guarantee that they would use water in moderation so the attitude is still the most important factor,” he said.

In this effort, SAJ launched a module for school students throughout the state during the event to educate the younger generation about saving water.

The module, which was first introduced in 2011, was revived this year.

This is a proactive step by SAJ in raising awareness on water conservation and instilling good habits among students in Johor schools.

Read more!

Thailand: Rising sea temps bring coral bleaching to Gulf

Department weighs closing reefs for rehab
APINYA WIPATAYOTIN Bangkok Post 4 Apr 16;

Coral bleaching has been detected at Koh Talu and Koh Leum in Prachuap Khiri Khan province for the first time, raising concerns the situation will raise sea temperatures, a marine biologist said.

Department of Marine and Coastal Resources senior biologist Nalinee Thongtham said the department found about 5% of the coral reef, mainly hump corals, has been bleached.

She said sea temperatures are increasing and expected to exceed 30C in some places. If temperatures do not drop, coral bleaching will expand.

In the Andaman Sea, there are reports of colour fading in some coral reefs, according to Ms Nalinee.

She said the strong influence of El Nino last year increased the temperature of seawater in the eastern Pacific. After temperatures dropped there, the mass of warming water moved to the western Pacific.

Further compounding the issue is the high seawater temperature associated with the summer, a significant factor stimulating coral bleaching.

Over 50% of coral reefs in Australia have been suffering from bleaching.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States recently forecast that coastal coral in Thailand and the Indian Ocean may begin to bleach this year.

Coral bleaching in Thailand was observed in 1991, 1995, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010, with the worst case of the phenomenon in 2010.

At that time, 66.9% of coral reefs in the northern Andaman Sea and 39% in the southern Andaman Sea died from bleaching, according to the marine department.

To limit the impacts, Ms Nalinee said the department has been working with the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation to possibly close some coral reef sites in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea if bleaching becomes a crisis.

"By the end of this month, we will know whether things will get any worse. The departments will evaluate the situation before deciding if it is necessary to close the coral reef sites for rehabilitation," she said.

The department has identified 90 sites which have a good capacity to recover from bleaching. Of the sites, some might be closed to promote coral reef expansion, which would help the bleached areas, she said.

These coral reefs may include ones in Satun province, Surin Island in Phangnga province, Koh Chang in Trat province and Koh Kram in Chon Buri province.

Closing the reefs would affect tourism revenue, but no estimate was available.

There are 75,590 rai of coral reef in the Gulf of Thailand, of which 5% are considered to be in fertile condition and 73,364 rai in the Andaman Sea with 6.4% in ideal condition.

Various government agencies say tourism and fishing-related activities are among the key factors killing the coral reefs.

Read more!