Best of our wild blogs: 25 Apr 16

Intertidal walks resume, registration opens 1 May!
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Pulau Semakau North in a purple sunrise
wild shores of singapore

Bleachy corals at Pulau Semakau (24042016)
Psychedelic Nature

Batik Golden Orb Web Spider (Nephila antipodiana) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Monday Morgue

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Study raises questions about S’pore’s wild bird trade, urges action

Nearly 86,000 birds traded could not be accounted for; AVA says several reasons possible

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 25 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE — Four years after Singapore was named as a key laundering point for tens of thousands of birds caught in the wild from the Solomon Islands, a new study has highlighted significant discrepancies in trade figures of birds — including endangered and vulnerable species — reported by the Republic and its trading partners.

The study found that between 2005 and 2014, close to 86,000 birds traded could not be accounted for after they arrived in Singapore. Birds that are not re-exported are presumed to have entered the domestic market, but the scale of the discrepancy suggests this is unlikely, it stated.

The discrepancy warrants further investigation as the inability to effectively monitor movement of species such as the African grey parrot (picture) “fundamentally undermines” the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement to ensure trade does not threaten wildlife species with extinction. This leaves potential loopholes for illegal trade, said Mr Colin Poole of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the study’s co-author.

Mr Poole and co-author Chris Shepherd of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC called for Singapore to provide more accurate information by way of actual trade figures and to exercise more caution in ensuring trade numbers are within permitted quotas.

Singapore should also declare stocks of CITES-listed species held by registered breeding and exporting facilities here, and release data on its seizures of illegal wildlife, they said.

From 2005 to 2014, Singapore reported importing 225,561 birds and exporting 136,912 birds to the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Parrots were the most commonly traded species and the African grey parrot, a vulnerable species, was the most intensively traded, with more than twice the number imported into Singapore than any other species. Almost half of the African grey parrots imported during this period were reported to be caught in the wild, from countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is under scrutiny for unsustainable exports.

Singapore was a leading transit hub for birds from Africa and Europe, to East Asia and the Middle East, the study found. For instance, it imported 41,737 African grey parrots, mainly from eight African countries from 2005 to 2014, and exported 31,529 of them to places such as Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates and Japan.

These parrots are among the most popular pet birds due to their gentle nature and ability to mimic human speech, but this has made them a prime target for poachers, said the authors.

Responding to the study, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said Singapore has been meeting its CITES obligations. In recent years, the AVA has submitted the actual number of imported and exported birds, instead of merely the number of permits issued — which may not be eventually used by a trader.

The AVA said several reasons could account for discrepancies in trade numbers: Imported birds may not be re-exported within the same year; local farms that breed birds, including African grey parrots in captivity; countries that are not party to CITES not being obliged to report trade data to CITES.

“For example, when Singapore exports 10 CITES birds to other countries that are non-party to CITES, our export data shows 10, but on the other country’s import data, it may be zero,” said a spokesperson. According to the study, Taiwan is not a party to CITES.

The AVA also said that import permits issued may not have been used and actual imported consignments may have fewer animals. An electronic CITES permit system ensures that Singapore’s re-export quantity does not exceed its imported quantity.

The AVA has rejected foreign permits issued with quantity exceeding the export quotas established for the African grey parrots, and Singapore also reported a number of fraudulent CITES permits received from other CITES parties. It has suspended trade of CITES species with countries recommended by the CITES Secretariat, the spokesperson added.

Other measures that the AVA takes include inspecting all CITES shipments — including those from high-risk countries at ports of entry or exit.

The trafficking of endangered animals is fuelled by demand and poaching, and the public can help by not buying such animals, added the AVA.

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Consumers are key to seafood sustainability: WWF Singapore

By choosing to buy seafood that is sustainably fished, organisations like WWF Singapore and the Marine Stewardship Council say consumers and businesses can influence fishing patterns.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 24 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: Imagine telling your children stories of marine life that once roamed the seas and of your favourite seafood, which no longer exists. This scenario could come true in about 30 years if current fishing practices continue, according to research.

Consumers are key to stopping or reversing this trend, said WWF Singapore, as their buying choices can influence fishing patterns.

For example, consumers can choose to buy and eat sustainable seafood, which is defined as seafood that is caught with the least impact on the environment.

This means the catch is not from a species that is overfished and it was caught with fishing methods that did not damage marine habitats like corals. Steps must have also been taken to make sure other species like turtles and dolphins were not trapped and killed in the process.


Currently, the trade of critically endangered animals, like certain species of sharks and manta rays, is regulated or banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). But many species that are at risk – such as like the black pomfret, flower crabs, tiger prawns, and the yellow banded scad (also known as ikan selar kuning) – are not on the CITES list.

Many of these species come from foreign waters like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the South China Sea, and they pass through ports like Senoko.

In addition, many species that are at risk of extinction are widely sold, and most of the consumers Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they did not know that they had been buying seafood that is at risk.

To help the public make more informed choices, WWF Singapore has come up with a Sustainable Seafood Guide.

“At the end of the day, the people who catch the fish, the fishermen, are only going to catch what consumers want. So consumers really have a big role to play by choosing wisely the kinds of species they want to consume,” explained WWF Singapore’s Conservation Resource Manager Karen Sim Clerc.

“If consumers are aware that what they're consuming is good for the environment, maybe more of them will be inclined to pay a bit more."

WWF Singapore will launch an app in June called ‘Fishial Recognition’, which helps consumers identify seafood that is overexploited.

Fish stocks depletion is likely to significantly impact Singapore, which consumes about 120,000 tonnes of seafood a year. This translates to roughly 22 kilograms per person, more than the global average of about 20 kilograms.

In 2015, Singapore imported more than 130,000 tonnes of seafood. Over 50,000 tonnes came through fishery ports operated by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

Besides consumers, businesses can also play their part, said the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which sets certification standards for sustainable seafood.


Take Hilton Singapore for example. It offers sustainable seafood at all its three restaurants, as well as room dining services. Its supply chain is certified by MSC and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council Chain of Custody.

According to Hilton Singapore’s Director of Operations Samuel Peter, 40 per cent of the hotel’s seafood is caught responsibly.

"When the guests arrive, we always explain (that) it's all about sustainability. And also when they ask what it's all about, we tell them, if we continue fishing like what we're doing today, then in 30 years, there won't be any seafood available. They understand quite quickly that yes, we should actually change our habits and go for sustainable seafood," said Mr Peter.

As part of the certification criteria, steps are taken to ensure that sustainable products are kept separate from those that are not, he said. There also needs to be traceability, so the hotel also keeps track of all its suppliers' certificates.

But Hilton Singapore told Channel NewsAsia that one real problem is the limited supply of sustainable seafood in the market. Currently, just over 20 companies and over 60 products on the shelves in Singapore are certified by MSC.

"We've gone from a place of very low engagement… but (there is) still work to do,” said Patrick Caleo, Regional Director, Asia Pacific, Marine Stewardship Council.

“We need fisheries to work towards improving, and we need the markets to improve its traceability and get certified as well. We also want consumers to make positive choices, so we want consumers to look for the MSC eco-label. If they can't find it, we want consumers to ask for the MSC eco-label. This drives demand for certified sustainable products, and rewards those fisheries out there who are doing the right thing."

However, sustainable seafood costs up to 15 per cent more. This means consumers have to pay more, or businesses have to absorb the cost.

Mr Caleo added: "There is a cost to certification and there is a cost to managing fisheries properly, but this is an investment in the future of fisheries and ensuring that we've got fisheries and healthy seafood supply for future generations."

One company that bears the extra cost is Global Oceanlink, which counts 20 per cent of its total inventory as sustainable seafood.

The firm supplies 50,000 kilograms of sustainable seafood – including dory fillets, snow crabs and fresh oysters – to 150 businesses in Singapore every month.

M N Sun, who oversees business development at Global Oceanlink said: "We drive the volume of the product in order to negotiate with our suppliers, and then by doing that, we actually bring down the cost, and we don't want to bring this cost over to our consumers. So, in fact, what we did was to absorb the additional cost, just to promote this sustainable seafood against the non-sustainable ones."

The company hopes to convert the rest of its inventory to sustainable stocks, by encouraging the fisheries it buys from to get certified by MSC.

"We want to convert those non-sustainable at hand to be sustainable in the near future. I think that's the fastest way that we can work towards the publicity of sustainable seafood," he added.

With nearly 3 billion people relying on fish as a major source of protein and some 10 to 12 per cent of the world's population relying on fishing as their livelihood, efforts like these can be crucial to preventing the world's supply of seafood from running out.

According to a report by WWF, at present, 90 per cent of the world's fish stocks are overexploited. Out of that number, 61 per cent are fully exploited, which means that there is no room to fish for these species.

- CNA/ll

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Malaysia: Johor to keep supplying water to Singapore

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 25 Apr 16;

JOHOR BARU: Parts of Johor may be facing water rationing but the state will continue to meet its obligation to supply 250 million gallons to Singapore daily.

The Linggiu Dam, which is operated by Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB) to release water into Sungai Johor to keep the salt water out and improve the water yield, is seeing a 35% level, said Johor Public Works, Rural and Regional Develop­ment Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad.

Singapore leaders have claimed that this level is the dam’s lowest in its 20 years of operations.

The other five water treatment plants extracting water from Sungai Johor belong to Syarikat Air Johor.

Hasni said the state was bound by an agreement to supply 250 million gallons of water to the island republic until 2061.

“We will still be able to meet Singapore’s needs despite the drop,” he said.

Hasni said cloud seeding would be carried out around dams in the state.

Asked if Singapore had stopped releasing water from Linggiu due to its low level, he said that although it was under its purview, PUB had to release water to prevent the salt water intrusion that would affect the water treatment plants in the area.

“We have started seeing some results from the RM90mil barrage being built to keep salt water from coming into Sungai Johor.

“The barrage will be fully operational in the next few months,” he said, adding that this would allow for water extraction to be carried out in Sungai Johor without the worry of salt water intrusion into treatment plants.

Hasni hoped cloud-seeding efforts would help increase water levels in major water extraction points, including Sungai Johor, Sungai Lebam Dam in Kota Tinggi and Layang Dam in Masai, Pasir Gudang.

The Linggiu Reservoir, built upstream along Sungai Johor in 1994, collects and releases rainwater into the river.

This pushes seawater back into the sea and ensures that the river water is not too salty to be treated by the six water treatment plants located along Sungai Johor.

Imported water makes up about 60% of Singapore’s total consumption needs.

A scheduled water rationing for 85,000 domestic and industrial consumers in the Kota Tinggi and Mersing districts will go on until May 15.

The exercise was the result of the four water treatment plants in the two districts having reached critical levels.

The water treatment plants are situated in Lok Heng and Sungai Gembut in Kota Tinggi, and Sungai Mersing and Tenglu in Mersing.

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Malaysia: Army and cops to guard water catchment areas in Johor

The Star 25 Apr 16;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: Johor will rope in the army and police to prevent unscrupulous parties from drawing water illegally from water catchment areas.

The operations would also involve SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd and District Land Offices, said state Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad.

Johor Water Regulatory Body (Bakaj) would also monitor and co-ordinate the anti-water theft operation.

“We will take stern action against those found drawing water illegally from the water catchment areas including charging them for trespassing on state-owned land,” Hasni told reporters during the state assembly break.

He said the action was necessary as water levels at rivers in Kota Tinggi and Mersing – which supplied raw water to dams in the two districts – had reached critical levels because of El Nino.

Hasni said the state authorities had issued notices to large scale vegetable farmers with farms close to the water catchment areas to look at other water resources instead of using river water.

“We are also closely watching whether animal breeders and factories draw water illegally from the water catchment areas and rivers,” he added.

Hasni said Johor had requested the Meteorological Department to conduct 40 cloud seeding operations in the Kota Tinggi and Mersing districts.

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Malaysia: Selangor carrying out cloud seeding to increase water levels at dams

ALLISON LAI The Star 14 Apr 16;

SHAH ALAM: The Selangor government will consider increasing cloud seeding operations if necessary due to the dry spell, said Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali (pic).

The Selangor Mentri Besar said the state has been carrying out cloud seeding operations twice daily since last year to increase water levels at dams.

''We are concerned with the water levels of some of our reservoirs.

''We have decided to increase our flights for cloud seeding if the need arises,” he said after visiting the low cost flats at Seksyen 28 here Sunday.

‎Azmin said RM5mil has been spent on cloud seeding since last year and the operations have yielded results in increasing water levels at the dams.

''Certainly we will need to do more if we want more rain in Selangor.

''In fact, we just had a special meeting last week after several dams were reported to be at low levels, and measures have been taken to address the problem," he added.

Azmin said these include the construction of the Hybrid Off River Augmentation System (Horas) that can supply up to 600 million litres of water per day‎.

He said the water retention ponds in Bestari Jaya also enables water to be pumped into rivers in Selangor when necessary.

On another matter, Azmin said a total of 1,000 new and sturdier rubbish bins would be provided at all low cost flats around Selangor, especially dengue hotspots, for better waste disposal to curb the dengue menace.

''The old and damaged bins caused rubbish to overflow and clogged the drains nearby, and they eventually become breeding grounds for the Aedes mosquitoes," he added.

More cloud-seeding exercises in Selangor on the cards: Azmin
DAWN CHAN New Straits Times 24 Apr 16;

SHAH ALAM: The Selangor state government has decided to conduct additional cloud seeding exercises to boost the level of water at its dams in view of the hot and dry spell which may prolong until September.

Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali said currently cloud seeding exercises are carried out twice a day; once in the early morning and in the afternoon.

"We are concerned about our reservoirs (the level of water) and we have decided to increase the number of flights for cloud seeding if there is a need. We need more rain to ensure that there is more supply of water in our reservoirs.

"We have already spent RM5 million on cloud seeding exercises since last year until now which has contributed to some degree of success (in boosting water level). We are willing to spend more in case the dry season continues until September. These exercises will continue.

"The level of dams as well as rivers are monitored on an hourly basis every day. I also chair regular meetings to discuss water related issues and it has been brought up in the state economic action council meetings," said Azmin.

In a meeting last week, Azmin said several dams were reported to be at a low level and the state government had taken proactive measures to ensure continuous supply of water with the completion of the Hybrid Off River Augmentation System (HORAS 600) that can supply up to 600 million litres of water daily as well as water retention ponds in Bestari Jaya that would be pumped into rivers in the state.

Azmin said this when met during an anti-dengue campaign organised by the Shah Alam City Council in Section 28 today.

Section 28 was identified as one of the dengue hotspots and the problem was attributed to the absence of rubbish bins at the chutes of each block which had resulted in poor rubbish disposal.

Azmin had during the walkabout at the flats instructed Hebat Abadi Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Kumpulan Darul Ehsan Berhad, to provide 1,000 rubbish bins costing a total of RM 1 million to low cost flats in the state that are dengue hotspots.

Azmin asked that residents cooperate and play a positive role with the authorities so that dengue cases can be lowered.

Meanwhile, Azmin called on Selangor folk to take advantage of the iDengue application that can be downloaded on smart phones where the latest information such as dengue hotspots, statistics as well as other related information are available and updated by the Health Ministry.

Dwindling water levels may force Perak to declare Bukit Merah a disaster zone
BERNAMA New Straits Times 24 Apr 16;

IPOH: The Perak Government may request the Federal Government to declare Bukit Merah, about 90km from here, a disaster zone as the Tasik Bukit Merah Dam water level dwindles due to hot and dry weather caused by El Nino.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir said if the Bukit Merah area was declared disaster zone, the National Security Council (NSC) could help the affected farmers, especially around Kerian to assess the losses.

“In case (a state of emergency) is declared, it does not mean that the area is closed but the government will make an assessment in terms of losses and so on, especially for affected farmers,” he told reporters after attending the state-level 2016 Vaisakhi Open House celebrations here today.

Zambry urged the relevant authorities, including the agriculture and agro-based industry ministry to view the situation in the area as critical since it involved an area of 5,000 hectares of paddy crop.

“It is not just about the lake area but also involves the farmers in the area, which will certainly affect the granary in Perak and the country,” he said.

However, Zambry said the department would continue to monitor the situation in Bukit Merah, including the distribution of rainfall from time to time.

"I have asked State Secretary, Datuk Seri Abdul Puhat Mat Nayan to take the next step for the declaration if the situation gets critical," he said.

Meanwhile, Perak Public Utilities, Infrastructure, Energy and Water Committee chairman, Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paharudin said the water level at the Tasik Bukit Merah Dam this morning rose 0.003 metre (0.01 feet) to 6,096 metres (20 feet) as compared to 6,065 metres (19.9 feet) recorded on Saturday.

When contacted by Bernama yesterday, he said the rise in water level was due to rain in the catchment area yesterday and hoped the rain would continue.

Industries in Malaysia fear nation’s worst water crisis
Today Online 25 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA — Industries in Malaysia are warning the hot spell, expected to last until September, will impact the nation’s economy.

They say productivity levels will fall as certain sectors will be hit if water rationing kicks in due to low water supply.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said it could be costly for businesses if water supply was disrupted.

“Many industries need constant supply of clean and treated water. Past instances have proven operation costs increased when companies were forced to source their own water supply,” he said.

Mr Shamsuddin highlighted the 1998 water crisis in the Klang Valley when industries were affected following the government’s decision to introduce water rationing for 150 days.

Faced with high demand and spiralling operating costs, Mr Shamsuddin said many companies faced a tough time.

“Productivity slumped across the board at the time due to factors beyond their control.”

Mr Shamsuddin said many were now bracing for a similar situation as another crisis looms due to depleting water reserves at dams.

“I hope the authorities will manage the situation more efficiently than they did in 1998,” he said.

Cameron Highlands Vegetable Growers’ Association secretary Chay Ee Mong said there had been a 20 per cent decline in output.

“If this continues until September, our output could fall between 40 and 50 per cent,” he said.

Mr Chay said the hot weather had yet to affect the health of vegetable farm workers.

“For now, Cameron Highlands is still relatively cool at night,” he said.

Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Malaysia Penang branch chairman Jerry Chan Fook Sing said the construction industry was also affected by the crisis.

“Our operation costs rose during that time (in 1998) but our work was not disrupted, unlike other industries such as electronics and soft drink manufacturers. Even hawkers were impacted as they relied heavily on water,” he said.

Asked if businesses and industries were better prepared to face another water rationing period, Mr Chan said he did not think so.

“Particularly in Penang, we have taken things for granted because of the minimal disruption, good water quality and constant supply over the years. This has lulled most people into a false sense of security,” he said.

Klang MP Charles Santiago said Malaysia was at risk of falling into a state of emergency if steps were not taken to address the situation quickly.

“The heat and lack of water will affect the productivity of workers, resulting in a decline of output,” he said.

“The state and federal government must start a plan to conserve water. If not, we will be setting ourselves to face an awful disaster,” he said.

He said there should be stricter usage of water during this period to stop consumers from using water unnecessarily.

“We should not wait until water levels at dams reach 30 per cent before thinking of a conservation plan.”

Mr Santiago said if the heatwave continued over the next five months, Malaysia could face its worst water crisis. THE MALAY MAIL ONLINE

Days are much cooler now
The Star 15 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Frequent rains in the past few days are signs that the effects of El Nino, which is responsible for the protracted dry spell, especially in the northern region of the peninsula, may finally be abating.

Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said El Nino was weakening and the rain was also doing its part in lowering the temperature.

“We are now in the inter-monsoon season where afternoon rains and thunderstorms are the norm,” she said, adding that the season was expected to last until May.

“Things are expected to be back to normal by June.”

A MetMalaysia officer had recently said that the inter-monsoon season had set in early this month, with east coast states beginning to experience heavy rainfall.

The impact of El Nino on the temperature in the country is also expected to reduce when the strength of the El Nino winds down while the increase in the frequency of rain during the inter-monsoon season reaches its height at the end of April or early May.

The public was told to expect more frequent rain with thunderstorms during the afternoon and evening, especially in the west coast states as well as west Sabah and Sa­­ra­wak as the inter-monsoon progress­ed.

During the months of the inter-monsoon season, mornings will typically be fair with blue skies and strong convective clouds could develop in late mornings, followed by afternoon rains.

According to weather forecasts by the department, folks in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Putrajaya can expect thunderstorms in the afternoon in the coming week.

In George Town, an hour-long downpour brought much relief to Penangites who had been enduring a dry spell in the past months.

Exactly a week ago, it had rained in almost every corner of the state and yesterday, Penangites in several parts of the state also enjoyed a cool and breezy respite.

“It’s really nice to get wet for once after travelling every day under the hot sun,” said driver A. Salim, who was riding a motorcycle without a raincoat.

“For once, getting drenched was fun,” he added after stopping near a coffee shop to dry himself.

Saleswoman R. Keerthi, who was walking along Jalan Datuk Keramat to her workplace, said this was the first time after a long while that she had to use an umbrella on a rainy day.

“The scorching heat was unbearable. I would sweat by the time I reached the office, which is just 500m away from my house,” she said.

A MetMalaysia spokesman said heavy rain was recorded in Balik Pulau in the morning and also in Paya Terubong while there was intermittent rain in some parts of the island.

Isolated rain was also reported in Sungai Bakap, Bukit Mertajam and Butterworth on the Penang mainland.

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Malaysia: Turtles found dead at beach where oil slick spotted

The Star 25 Apr 16;

KUANTAN: Four green turtles or penyu agar (Chelonia mydas) were found dead by the beach in Kampung Sungai Ular here.

The carcasses were found scattered on the beach where an oil spill occurred last week.

A passer-by, Herman Nadil, 55, said he saw the carcasses yesterday.

“I believe the turtles had died several days ago due to the oil slick,” he said.

State Fisheries Department director Datuk Adnan Hussain said the dead turtles could be linked to the oil spill but a thorough probe needed to be conducted.

“The dead turtles were probably eight years old,” he said.

“Sungai Ular and Cherating beaches are turtle landing sites and no human activities are allowed.

“I believe visitors would not harm these turtles, so the oil slick is the most probable cause.”

Green turtles, which can live up to 100 years, are the most common species found in Malaysian waters and have been listed as “endangered”.

This species is the second largest turtle in Malaysia and it can reach lengths of one metre and weigh about 180kg.

Last Wednesday, an oil spill stretching some 10km was spotted along Pantai Batu Hitam up to Pantai Pelindung.

A check yesterday showed that there was more oil slick along the Kampung Sungai Ular beach for some 5km.

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Greeenpeace warrior poorer but happier

Wong Kim Hoh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Apr 16;

By his own reckoning, Calvin Quek was nondescript and colourless when he was a pupil in Anglo-Chinese Primary.

"I was probably a kid that most teachers will not really remember except for the accident," he says.

The accident in question took place when he was 11. He hurtled down a hill on his bicycle, hit a fence, got thrown 4m into the air, landed face down in a ditch and cracked his skull.

Thankfully Mr Quek outgrew his mediocrity and went on to lead a rather interesting life.

He studied architecture but became a banker, and after six years, junked the fancy job title and fat pay cheque to become an environmental activist.

Today, the 38-year-old is the Head of Sustainable Finance at Greenpeace East Asia based in Beijing, and the go-to guy for researchers, investors and policymakers wishing to know more about environmental and energy issues in the Middle Kingdom.

Debunking the activist stereotype of a strident agitator, he is Clark Kent-ish and speaks in the measured, reasoned tones of a thinker.

He is the elder of two sons of an architect and a banker who moved from Singapore to Vancouver in the 1970s. Life in Canada did not agree with his parents so they came back to Singapore when he was five.

He was an introverted child.

"I was quite pudgy and awkward, probably mildly autistic," says Mr Quek, who, like his father and grandfather, went to Anglo-Chinese School. "I was below average in my studies. The only thing I could do very well was draw."

The awkwardness and the puppy fat which dogged him as a kid vanished in his teens. He picked up basketball, became more sociable and developed a surer sense of self.

After completing his O levels, he spent a short stint at Anglo-Chinese Junior College before leaving for first, Syracuse University in New York, and later, Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburg, to study architecture.

Those years in the United States stretched his mind. "I read a lot: Emerson, Melville and the American transcendentalists who talked about reliance, personal responsibility and the nature of man," he says, referring to writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville and the philosophical movement which believes that the inherent purity of man and nature is corrupted by society and its institutions.

"I got an education in culture, history and self-awareness in a big way," he says.

In his last two years at university, he discovered that motion and graphic design fascinated him more than building architecture did. "I taught myself Photoshop and other computer graphic skills. To this day, I still consider myself a very visual person. I think in terms of proportion, space and colours." fever was raging when the Canadian citizen graduated in 2000. Razorfish, an Internet firm in Los Angeles, offered him a job as an information architect. The annual pay package was US$60,000 to build websites, not bad for someone fresh out of school.

But just six months into the job, the bubble burst and he was retrenched.

"It was an extremely humbling experience," he says. "They put us in two rooms, it was almost like American Idol. If you heard the other room cheering, you knew you were done and you felt as though you were in the gas chambers."

For six months, he bummed around in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"I read a lot, watched a lot of basketball, played my guitar, and lived on my savings, unemployment cheques and Taco Bell."

On the advice of his mother, he came back to Singapore to look for a banking job.

"I left on the day of 9/11 from the West Coast. When I reached Singapore, I found out that the world had changed in a profound way."

He found a job as a Web designer and usability expert in Citibank, building templates for websites and overseeing eyeball tracking. Next came a stint in e-business.

"In 2005, I told myself that if I were to stay in a bank, I got to find out what finance and accounting was all about," he says.

So he got the bank to finance his Masters in Wealth Management at the Singapore Management University; his thesis explored philanthropy and socially responsible investments.

He also put himself through a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) programme and spent the next three years in financial research and investment banking.

The debacle that was the subprime crisis exploded next, coating the banking industry with a layer of slime.

But by then, the idea of doing something socially responsible had taken root in his head.

"I didn't like banking much. I didn't like going to work, going to drink and showing off how much you can buy. The nature of the banking world was political and I really didn't want to bend over," he says.

He much preferred hanging out at cafes in Bussorah Street where he learnt to play the sitar.

"I realised that I loved hanging out with strange people, people who think that the worst form of pollution in Singapore is spiritual pollution. And freegans," he jokes, referring to those who reclaim and eat food that has been discarded.

His attempts to jettison his financial career for one in a sustainable industry, however, came to naught.

"I wanted to scale it up against systems and policies but Singapore has nothing, it is not the right pond for such jobs," he says.

Why the environment?

"Because I need a cause to latch on to. I can think of no better cause than the environment. Maybe if I had experience in saving someone's life, I might have been involved in humanitarian issues. Or if I had been born poor, I might have been involved in poverty alleviation."

Fascinated by the green lobby that was happening in the US and Britain, he applied to do his MBA and was accepted by the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

He quit Citibank. Because he had several months to kill before he had to leave for the US, he decided to hightail it to China to teach English.

That decision changed the course of his life.

He ended up in Beijing Union University.

"When they found out that I was from Citibank, they told me, 'Tell us about American culture.' I started supplementing other people's classes and teaching all these 19-year-olds everything from politics to subprime. It was such an amazing experience," he says.

The stint kickstarted a deep interest and curiosity about China.

"I met lots of interesting Chinese people who were discussing lots of interesting ideas. I was curious."

That curiosity was so consuming that he decided to forfeit the registration fee he had paid for Notre Dame, and do his MBA at Peking University instead.

"It was really to buy myself more time so that I can figure out how to be a green guy in China."

At Peking University, he started a Green Club and attended events organised by the Beijing Energy Network (BNE), a grassroots outfit interested in environmental issues in China. It was founded by Singaporean Julian Wong, whom he had known since they were both altar boys at the Church of St Ignatius.

He got to know Greenpeace staff at BNE events and started volunteering for the outfit, which is well-known for its direct actions. The organisation does not accept funds from governments, political parties or corporations, and relies on its supporters and foundations instead.

Not long after he finished his MBA, he joined Greenpeace's sustainable finance team.

Although Greenpeace campaigns through direct action (some of which have resulted in lawsuits against the organisation), lobbying and research, it has to operate differently in China which forbids civil disobedience and often comes down hard on the media.

His work, he says, involves changing mindsets not just outside the organisation but within as well.

"Very often, environmental issues arise not because of one evil person but because of incentives and economics. Behind bad air pollution is a whole mountain of issues."

He adds: "I also believe causes cannot be won just by protests and civil disobedience. I believe that if you really want to be effective, we have to open up to all kinds of ways, markets or governments, go up, go down, whatever."

The trick to campaigning in China, he says, is not to make it a "we versus them" issue.

"The authorities know they need to get their act together, you don't need to shove it down their throats. We have the best expertise in air pollution and economics. So we say, 'You, Mr Government, you want to get the issue solved but here is the problem.'"

His corporate experience and network of contacts in the financial industry have served him well.

Trading on the mountain of non-public and credible information Greenpeace has, he started by talking to bank researchers whose job is to sell ideas to investors.

"They were like, 'Oh, this is interesting. You're showing us a part of China we never knew about'," says Mr Quek, who now heads a team of five at Greenpeace.

This led to presentations to not just investors but also banks and bodies like the European Chamber of Commerce, the British Embassy and Norwegian policymakers.

The winner of SMU's 2014 Rising Star Award is chuffed that he has played a part in the recent movement for investors to move away from coal, the dirtiest of all energy sources and the biggest culprit in global warming.

"Investors told me that the fact that I could talk to them about coal not just in ideological terms but from a financial and environmental perspective was very helpful," says the activist, whose views today are often quoted in research reports and newspaper articles.

Greenpeace, he says, has not shied away from taking on big players including the Shenhua Group, the world's biggest coal producer by volume.

Among other things, the organisation exposed Shenhua's practice of dumping toxic wastewater and over-exploitation of groundwater in the Haolebaoji basin, threatening its already fragile ecology.

Engaged to a Belgian earthquake expert, Mr Quek now earns a lot less than what he used to as a banker but he is way happier.

He says candidly: "Honestly, I don't know how much difference I am making in the grander scheme of things. But I hope I inspire other people to apply themselves to the fullest and test their boundaries."

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