Best of our wild blogs: 6 May 16

Singapore Raptor Report – March 2016
Singapore Bird Group

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Royston Tan's 'Homecoming' - film about people of Pulau Ubin

Royston Tan: 'I must rebel for the right reason'
Despite a string of govt-commissioned works, film-maker Roystan Tan says he has not 'sold out'
Joanne Soh The New Paper 6 May 16;

Do not call him the reformed bad boy of local cinema.

Even though Royston Tan has effectively become the go-to guy for government-endorsed projects - he has done more than 20 in the past decade, including 10 in the last year alone - there is still a rebel in him.

It is just manifested a little differently now.

The local film-maker still wants his work, be it short or feature-length films, to raise eyebrows.

"I don't think my story-telling style has changed over the years. The objective is still the same," Tan told The New Paper over the phone.

"There are certain messages I want to get across. I'm still telling stories close to my heart."

And that would be uniquely Singaporean human interest stories or tales about the community.

Sixteen years in the industry have certainly changed people's minds and opinions, as well as his own "enfant terrible" reputation.

For a director whose seminal 2002 feature film 15 struck a nerve in Singapore - particularly that of the Government's - due to its unsavoury depiction of teenage delinquency, gangs and illegal activities, Tan appears to be going in the opposite direction.

This year, the 39-year-old has already completed three commissioned projects by various ministries and agencies.

The first was a video installation called A Moment Of Unity for the National Museum of Singapore to mark the first anniversary of the passing of Singapore's first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew.

That was followed by Shoelaces, a heartwarming commercial commissioned by the Workplace Safety and Health Council to create awareness that all injuries and ill health at work can be prevented. It is now showing on TV and in cinemas.


Then there is Homecoming, a one-hour documentary film commissioned by the National Heritage Board (NHB) for Singapore HeritageFest 2016.

It features personal stories of former Pulau Ubin residents who still return to the village and others who have left their homes on the mainland to settle down on Ubin.

Its premiere will be at the Pulau Ubin Wayang Stage on May 14, alongside another local film, Dahdi, by Kirsten Tan.

When asked if he is "selling out" for what may be perceived as propaganda projects, Tan brushed off the criticism, saying that "the culture has changed".

"I've not lost my edginess. It's just that the environment is more open, and that presented more opportunities for creativity," he insisted.

"The (agencies) don't interfere much nowadays... they just let me do what I want."

He said the agencies gave him free rein on the stories and direction.

"I guess they like my narrative and atmospheric style."

It is clear that there is no longer any bad blood between Tan and the censorship board, and all those 15-related fiascos are water under the bridge.

"I never thought of myself as a rebel against the authorities. When I rebel, I must rebel for the right reason."

He added, laughing: "I'm still very much against censorship, though!"

For Homecoming, Tan was approached by NHB because of a Pulau Ubin segment in his short film 50 First Kisses, which was part of the SG Heart Map campaign last year.

"(NHB) asked if I have any more footage on Pulau Ubin. After much discussion and brainstorming, we realised that the island has a lot of interesting people, and they should be featured.

"They have so many wonderful memories and those should be shared."


Capturing the past has long been a hobby for Tan, who is passionate about archiving and documenting Singapore's lost heritage, forgotten places and even old architecture.

Doing commercials such as Shoelaces pays the bills for him to indulge in such pet projects, Tan joked.

However, Tan insists he still pushes the envelope.

"I have a big 'naughty' project coming up," he teased, hinting that it may have something to do with the anti-dialect campaign.

"We used to have those Speak Mandarin campaigns and were forbidden to use dialect.

"But dialect is beautiful and it should not be lost. It's how we communicate with our elderly folks.

"If Singaporeans can speak Korean by watching the TV shows, why can't they pick up Mandarin so easily too?

"So don't blame dialect and make it the scapegoat for us not being able to speak Mandarin properly.

"Wait for my next project. It will be out in a few months' time and it is going to be historic," he said, laughing.

Royston's fond memories of the island from his younger days and his passion for documenting Singapore's heritage can be seen from his recent work, 7 Letters, and his other short film 50 First Kisses. We are confident that he will be able to tell the story of Pulau Ubin beautifully.

- Mr Warren Sin, film programmer, Singapore HeritageFest 2016

Royston was part of a group of three local film-makers shortlisted by our advertising agency to produce the commercial Shoelaces. We appointed him because we felt that his creative style and proposed execution of the (commercial) was best suited to achieve our objectives in getting the general public to take action to prevent injuries and ill health at work. The WSH Council had also previously worked with Royston (for) its 2012 television commercial Guilt Kid.

- Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council spokesman

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Heritage in the heartlands -- Bedok's lost shoreline

Today Online 6 May 16;

SINGAPORE — Before the massive land reclamation project in the 1960s permanently extended the eastern coastline of Singapore, the former coastal settlement of Bedok was the very scene of tropical idyll, with beach mansions of the local rich melding with traditional Malay kampungs and fishing villages set to a backdrop of swaying palm trees and the South China Sea.

Although such a scene is no longer available, this is what people can get a sense of when they sign up for a guided bus tour around the Bedok area. This new heritage trail was officially launched yesterday by the National Heritage Board (NHB) as part of the activities for this year’s Singapore HeritageFest (SHF).

Other activities offered this weekend (the second of three on the SHF calendar), which sees focus move from the city centre to the heartlands, include gastronomic tours of areas known for their food offerings, such as Balestier, Joo Chiat, Kampong Glam and Changi.

But of the myriad activities available for heritage buffs, the guided Bedok Heritage Trail stands out as a firm highlight. The bus tour will travel through history-rich sites such as the Frankel and Opera Estates, where Albert Einstein once visited as a guest of the prominent Frankel family; an intact piece of the old sea wall at Upper East Coast Road opposite Laguna Park condominium; and Bedok Corner, the former site of raucous sea regattas featuring koleks (small wooden Malay boats) and seafront kampungs that dotted the shoreline of Singapore’s east coast.

It is NHB’s 15th heritage trail, spanning over 15km and featuring 10 heritage markers installed at various sites around the area.

“We hope that the trail will raise the awareness of residents and visitors about Bedok’s heritage, pique their interest to re-discover key landmarks in the estate, and instil a sense of pride in them when they learn about Bedok’s role in Singapore’s progress as a nation,” said Alvin Tan, NHB’s assistant chief executive (Policy & Community).

Added Tan Teng Teng, researcher for the Bedok Heritage Trail: “Bedok was one of the most photographed areas of Singapore (in the earlier part of last century), as its coastal scenery inspired a lot of photographers and film-makers. The first open-air cinema was in Siglap. Bedok has managed to retain a lot of its character despite being one of the first resettlement zones in Singapore.”

Tan added that the discussions with the Housing & Development Board (HDB) and preliminary research for the Bedok Heritage Trail started in 2011, and was developed as part of the HDB’s Remaking Our Heartland plans for the East Coast area.

Yesterday also saw the unveiling of a brand-new mobile application titled Singapore Heritage Trails, which was developed by the NHB in collaboration with the Keio-NUS CUTE Center. The latter is a joint collaboration between National University of Singapore and Keio University in Japan to further research in digital interactive media.

The mobile app is a compilation of 80 heritage trails in Singapore developed by community and public agency partners, in addition to those by NHB, such as food-themed and paranormal trails. It also allows users to curate their own trails, and contribute pictures and accounts of their experiences through interactive and geo-tracking features.

“This project is the first attempt to consolidate all of Singapore’s heritage trails, and (it) is great for people who are after spontaneity as they are able to locate trails and heritage sites nearby,” said Dr Kelvin Cheng, research fellow at the Keio-NUS CUTE Center. Aside from heritage and historical information, the app also features food recommendations. “We wanted to build a platform that is more social and encourage contributions from the public to build on their memories with user-generated content,” said Cheng.

Two more heritage trails will be unveiled in the second half of this year; a refreshed trail of Bukit Timah and a brand-new one for Little India.

Added Tan: “We (at the NHB) don’t believe in just putting the infrastructure out there; we hope to encourage and foster community engagement and partnership with all of our heritage trails.”

The Singapore HeritageFest runs from now until May 15. To register for ticketed events, visit

Heritage in the Heartlands: Get to know the rich history of Bedok’s coastline

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Indonesia Limboto Lake: A migration stopover and a permanent habitat

Syamsul Huda M.Suhari Jakarta Post 5 May 16;

Despite alarming ecological concerns, Limboto Lake in Gorontalo remains either a stopover point or a permanent home for at least 85 bird species. Some of the birds are endemic to the region and many pass through Gorontalo when migrating.

The migratory birds, which rest at Limboto Lake, are water birds from Alaska, Siberia, Russia and Europe. Forty nine of the 85 species recorded at the lake are migratory birds.

They include the oriental pratincole, the whimbrel, the glossy ibis, the greater painted-snipe, the sharp-tailed sandpiper, the common sandpiper, the greater sand plover, the wood sandpiper, the oriental plover, the whiskered tern and the common sandpiper. Most of the birds rest at Limboto Lake before continuing their migration to various destinations.

“We can enjoy the migration phenomenon of the migrant birds during from October to December every year,” bird conservation group Burung Indonesia biodiversity officer Panji Ahmad Fauzan told on Wednesday.

From 2014 to 2016, Burung Indonesia, supported by photographers and journalists, has carried out a number of surveys to uncover the number and types of birds people can find in Limboto Lake.

Panji said the surveys were important because there was no comprehensive data on the birds at the lake, where the water level has continued to fall.

The presence of water birds at Limboto Lake had not been recorded by anyone else when conservation group Wetlands International carried out water bird surveys between 1987 and 2007.

According to Burung Indonesia, Limboto Lake is a natural habitat for 14 protected bird species and four Sulawesi endemic bird species. Those protected species are often still hunted people, for fun.

Debby Hariyanti Mano, a Gorontalo journalist and blogger who has documented birds at Limboto Lake, said wildlife hunting occurred there almost every day. When she goes to the lake to document bird species, Debby says she often meets hunters carrying air rifles and dead birds.

“Some of them proudly showed me pictures on social media of birds they hit while hunting,” said Debby.

The lake’s shallow and muddy nature has made it an ideal habitat for various water birds.

Unfortunately, the water at Limboto Lake has continued to recede and it will soon be dry. In the 1970s, the historical lake covered 5,600 hectares, and witnessed a peace agreement between two conflicting Gorontalo kingdoms.

Currently, Limboto Lake covers only 2,500 hectares. High sedimentation, forest clearing upstream and land conversion are among the major causes of silting in the lake. ( ebf )

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Coral bleaching in Seychelles' waters escalating, local groups say

Sharon Meriton Jean and Betymie Bonnelame Seychelles News Agency 5 May 16;

Bleaching of coral in the Seychelles archipelago has escalated the past two years, say officials from two non-governmental organisations.

In surveyed sites around Mahe, the most populated island, Global Vision International’s country director, Chris Mason-Parker, says as much as 90 percent of corals in shallow waters are now bleached significantly with signs of mortality.

Another organisation, Nature Seychelles, says extensive bleaching has been observed around Praslin, the second-most populated island, with over 17 percent of coral having died within the special reserve of Cousin, a neighbouring island.

Coral bleaching is a phenomenon where coral turns white or colours fade. It is caused by an increase in sea temperature. An El NiƱo similar to the one in 1998 has occurred this year, bringing above-average temperatures to the region.

The local media made a report last month on coral bleaching around Curieuse’ protected marine area, located 15 minutes from Praslin.

“Bleached corals continue to live, but growth is limited until they can regain the algae which give them their colour and food. This usually occurs when the temperature returns to normal,” said the chief executive of Nature Seychelles.

Given that it takes years for reefs to recover from such a phenomenon, Mason-Parker said this was an opportunity to identify resilient pockets of reef that may be critical for replenishing coral reefs in the Indian Ocean islands.

After the coral bleaching of 1998, coral transplantation is a well-established technique in Seychelles with several sites including Cousin and Curieuse being used as underwater coral nurseries.

Nature Seychelles implemented the largest coral reef restoration program in the region using more than 41,000 coral fragments which were grown in underwater nurseries for more than a year, off Praslin Island.

Over 34 species of corals were then transplanted to the Cousin Island Special Reserve in an area of 5,300 square meters, which was degraded by the 1998 bleaching incidence.

“We hope our transplanted corals exhibit the resilience needed to survive this episode,” said Shah, adding that this will establish proof of concept regarding the feasibility, and desirability of coral gardening.

Mason-Parker, on the other hand, highlighted the need to reduce stressors on local reefs such as avoiding overfishing, minimising nutrient loading and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. He said that protection should be provided for those reefs that are exhibiting resilience and extending this protection to adjacent seagrass and mangrove ecosystems.

“These will maximise our chances of protecting coral reefs and build their resilience to climate change,” Mason-Parker added.

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Drought takes toll at Palau's famed Jellyfish Lake

AFP Yahoo News 4 May 16;

Koror (Palau) (AFP) - A severe drought in Palau is killing marine life at the island nation's popular Jellyfish Lake, researchers say, forcing tourism operators to cancel trips to the unique Pacific destination.

The lake near the capital Koror normally provides a tranquil, otherworldly experience for tourists, mostly from China, who snorkel and float among throngs of non-stinging, golden jellyfish.

But with the tiny nation of 18,000 in the grip of its worst drought on record, scientists last month estimated the jellyfish population had plummeted from eight million to under 600,000.

Boat operators such as Sam's Tours say even that figure is optimistic, putting the numbers at 300,000 and falling.

Sam's no longer runs tours to the lake, normally one of Palau's main attractions, and four out of five operators contacted by AFP last week had adopted a similar policy.

"Many tour companies including ours that have been taking guests to the lake have not seen any jellyfish," Sam's said in a statement to customers.

"We at Sam's Tours have therefore decided to suspend our tours to Jellyfish Lake with immediate effect until further notice."

Palau had 160,000 foreign visitors last year, more than half of them from mainland China, and tourism is the economy's largest earner.

The drought, fuelled by an El Nino weather pattern, has depleted rivers and dams, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency and appeal for overseas aid.

The Coral Reef Research Foundation said the lack of rainwater had increased salinity in the lake, killing off the plankton that sustain the jellyfish.

"The golden jelly population could be on the verge of crashing, to the point where there are no more medusae (adults) swimming around the lake," the foundation said.

It said juvenile polyps could usually go dormant and repopulate when conditions improved but current conditions on the lake were unprecedented.

"This time around the situation is uncertain, as no one knows how this El Nino/La Nina scenario is going to play out," it added.

The Koror state government said it was confident that eventually Jellyfish Lake would once again live up to its name.

"This is a phase in the natural cycle of events in the overall realm of the ecosystem," it said.

"Similar events in the past show evidence of the resilience of our natural environment to recover to normal conditions."

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