Best of our wild blogs: 13 May 16

Pesta Ubin in the news!
Pesta Ubin

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Pulau Ubin hosts a five-week open house

Lea Wee Straits Times 13 May 16; Also in AsiaOne

Take a boat tour through the secret mangroves of Ubin, kayak in the calm waters of the Ubin Quarry and embark on a night walk to spot the nocturnal creatures of the island.

These are just some of the highlights at the longest open house event held to date on the island.

Called Pesta Ubin, it will run for five weeks, starting tomorrow and ending on June 12. Pesta is Malay for festival or party.

More than 50 activities have been lined up, from nature walks and cycling tours to kayaking expeditions and nature sketching.

Previous open houses at Ubin were usually one- or two-day events. But organisers felt cramming so many events in a short time affected the experience for participants, says Ms Ria Tan, who is coordinating the open house for the third time this year.

Ms Tan, 55, who runs wildlife website Wildsingapore, says: "Ubin was crowded. There were queues for bumboats, restaurants and toilets. This was not the Ubin we love and want people to experience."

By organising the open house over a longer period, the organisers hope participants can experience "normal" Ubin with its life in the slow lane and its friendly people.

Ms Tan says: "It also spreads out the pressure on facilities and organising groups can choose from many dates to offer activities."

She says there has been an outpouring of support and more than 30 individuals and organisations have come on board to offer activities.

Besides familiar faces in previous Ubin open houses such as veteran nature guide Subaraj Rajathurai, green groups such as Nature Society (Singapore) and private companies such as Asian Detours, there are a number of new participants this time.

One of them is Dr Dan Friess, 33, and his group of volunteers from the Restore Ubin Mangroves or R.U.M. initiative. The group, comprising nature enthusiasts and mangrove researchers, will be conducting guided walks and boat tours of the mangroves at the south-eastern part of the island.

Dr Friess, an assistant professor at the department of geography at the National University of Singapore, says: "Singapore's coastline used to be largely covered with mangrove forests. Though only fragments remain, they still provide us with many benefits, which we will discuss on the tours."

He adds that visitors will get to see many of the unique plants and animals that have adapted to the coastal environment.

Also new to Ubin open house is Mr Joseph Sng, 26, project director of Treasure SG, a non-profit treasure hunt project held in Singapore last year to celebrate SG50.

Mr Sng, who works as a procurement executive, is taking the project to Ubin this time because he feels that the island is a part of Singapore that many people tend to forget.

He says: "How many people stop to appreciate the beauty and understand the story behind Ubin?"

On the treasure hunt, participants follow a trail of clues which will lead them to 10 spots in Ubin town. Each spot can be identified by an information tag or laminated cardboard containing information about the history of the place.

Another newcomer is Morocco- born photographer and visual artist Juria Toramae, 32, who works in Singapore. She will be putting up an exhibition called Islands Of Memories featuring 51 photos of things and people found in Ubin.

She says: "The exhibition serves as a peek into memories I have collected in the past few years. It includes photos I have taken, as well as photos found in flea markets and donated by others."

Her exhibition will be shown at the shop of retiree Henry Lim. Mr Lim, 63, has also offered his space for a free "kampung photo shoot" where people can don sarongs and red clogs for photos.

At the same venue, visitors can also colour copies of the Pulau Ubin Fun Map. Drawn by nature lovers 15 years ago, the intricate map is filled with details of places in Ubin, some of which are already lost.

Former Ubin open house supporters such as environmental education group Cicada Tree Eco-Place is taking the opportunity of the extended run to organise more activities for families.

Other than a night walk to spot critters, it will also be holding its first walk in Ubin for children to spot the musang, or common palm civet.

It will also organise a two-day one-night nature camp for families at the newly opened Ubin Living Lab. Located at the south-western tip of the island, the research and educational hub opened in February this year and comes with facilities such as seminar rooms and a campsite.

Using the Living Lab as a base, families can go on at least three guided walks along the kampung trails in Ubin.

Father of four and IT manager Andy Lee, 42, thinks it will be too challenging to take his four children, aged seven to 13, for the camp. But he plans to let them take part in the treasure hunt.

He applauds the idea to hold the event over five weeks. He says: "This way, we can choose to go on weekdays when it is less crowded."

•For more information on the above and other events at Pesta Ubin, go to
•Unless otherwise stated, participants will pay at the meeting point. Places are on a first-come, first-served basis.
•Take a boat ride through Pulau Ubin's mangroves.


Meet fish farmers on Pulau Ubin and learn how sea water fish are reared at some of their farms.
When: Tomorrow to June 12
Time: 10am to 5pm
Cost: $15 a person
Info: To register, leave a private message at Sea Angel Facebook page with your name, mobile number, number of people in your group and date and time that you want to visit the farm.

Find out how well you know Ubin town by taking part in this treasure hunt which features 10 hidden treasure tags in the main village of Ubin.
Take a selfie with each tag and upload it onto social media with #TreasureSG, #TreasureUbin and #PestaUbin and stand a chance to win prizes such as books, vounchers and goodie bags.
When: Tomorrow to June 12
Cost: Free
Info: No registration required. Go to Treasure SG Facebook Page and Instagram (@TreasureSG) to find the clues and start the treasure hunt

Try to spot a musang (above) or common palm civet as it looks for its dinner. Along the way, you may even spot other shy nocturnal wildlife such as the Buffy Fish-owl. Learn why these animals are important to the ecosystem.
When: May 27
Time: 7.30 to 10pm
Where: Meet at 42 Pulau Ubin, opposite the Wayang Stage, three minutes' walk from Ubin Jetty
Cost: $10 for participants aged five years and older

Try your hand at night macro photography and capture nocturnal creatures as they emerge from their hideouts to hunt.
When: May 28
Time: 7pm to midnight
Where: Meet at Uncle Lim's shop, 42 Pulau Ubin, opposite the Wayang Stage, three minutes' walk from Ubin Jetty
Cost: $120 (includes materials for flash diffuser and chartered boat ride back to Changi Ferry Terminal). Pay by bank transfer
Info: To register, e-mail with your name, contact number and a description of your macro photography experience

Join Subaraj Rajathurai from Strix Wildlife Consultancy as he conducts this nature walk and shares fascinating stories about the history and heritage of Pulau Ubin.
When: June 1 and 8
Time: 8 to 11am, meet at 7.40am
Where: Meet at assembly area opposite the HSBC Volunteer Hub, about six minutes' walk from Ubin Jetty
Cost: $15 a participant. Proceeds will go to the Vertebrate Study Group, Nature Society (Singapore)
Info: No registration required. Maximum 40 people

Experienced nature guides from Cicada Tree Eco-Place will lead at least three guided nature walks along Ubin kampung trails.
Families also get to spend a night in tents at a campsite at the rustic Ubin Living Lab (above).
When: June 3 to 4
Time: 9.30am (June 3) to noon (June 4)
Where: Meet at Ubin Jetty
Info: Cost and other details to be confirmed. Go to for updates

In these 11/2-hour tours, learn about unique mangrove plants and animals from volunteers with R.U.M., a ground-up community effort to restore mangroves at Pulau Ubin.
When: June 4
Time: 9, 11am and 1pm
Where: Meet at assembly area opposite the HSBC Volunteer Hub
Cost: Free. No registration required

Volunteer guides will be stationed along the boardwalk at Chek Jawa to point out the thriving wildlife at the wetlands, which were saved from reclamation in 2001.
When: June 5
Time: 9am to noon
Where: Chek Jawa information kiosk
Cost: Free. No registration required

Join experienced kayak guides as they lead you on a short open sea jaunt before entering the serene mangroves of Ubin.
When: June 5
Time: 9.30am to before 2pm
Where: Meet next to Ubin Jetty, at the beach behind the bicycle shops
Cost: $35 an adult, $30 a child
Info: Register at

Explore Ubin Quarry with instructors from Outward Bound Singapore and Republic Polytechnic, who will share the history and snippets about the wildlife of the quarry, which is usually closed to the public.
When: June 11 Time: 10am to 5pm
Where: Meet at the "Y u so like dat" drinks stall
Cost: Free (limited to 250 participants)
Info: For more details, go to and

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NParks, PUB and AVA advise public not to release animals into the wild

A public awareness exercise on the dangers of releasing animals into parks, ponds, nature areas and reservoirs will be held on May 7-8 and May 14-15.
Samuel Mak Straits Times 5 May 16;

SINGAPORE - A public awareness exercise on the dangers of releasing animals into parks, ponds, nature areas and reservoirs will be held in 17 parks, nature reserves and reservoirs.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and PUB, Singapore's national water agency, will lead the campaign "Operation No Release" which will be held on two weekends, May 7 and 8 and May 14 and 15, the two agencies said in a joint statement.

They will keep a lookout for signs of animal release and educate members of the public on the harmful impact of releasing animals into the wild.

"Animals that are bred in captivity or captured from the wild deliberately to be sold are seldom equipped with the skills they need to survive in the wild," said Mr Wong Tuan Wah, Group Director of Conservation at NParks.

"They would find it difficult to fend for themselves, especially in an unfamiliar environment and many are unlikely to survive," he said.

Mr Wong added that the ones that manage to adapt to their new surroundings may outcompete native species for resources, disrupting the delicate ecological balance.

Mr Ridzuan Ismail, PUB's director of Catchment and Waterways, added: "Non-native species may introduce novel parasites and diseases into our native environment and waters, which may have impact on freshwater ecosystems and water quality."

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority said in a statement that being pet owners are lifetime commitments. Those who are unable to look after their pet should find a suitable home for them or approach an animal welfare group for help to re-home their pet.

First-time offenders caught releasing animals may be charged under the Parks and Trees Act and could be fined up to $50,000, jailed up to six months, or both.

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3D modelling dives into coral conservation

Audrey Tan Straits Times 13 May 16;

3D technology is set to change the way people live, and a new software that was developed here promises to make it accessible to most people. Audrey Tan looks at how this software is making its mark vividly at home and abroad.

ReMake is a type of software developed here by technology firm Autodesk, and it is making waves abroad... and underwater.

A marine conservation group based in the United States, The Hydrous, has been using the technology for at least two years to create 3D models of corals during its expeditions to places such as the Maldives.

"We have been using the technology as a better way for scientists to measure coral size and growth," Ms Yasmeen Smalley-Norman, vice-president of The Hydrous, said while she was in Singapore last month to attend the Asia Dive Expo.

Coral growth is usually measured in a two-dimensional way, with tape measures, rugosity chains or grid-like structures made of PVC pipes called quadrats. For instance, scientists typically use PVC quadrats to measure coral bleaching - a phenomenon when corals expel the symbiotic micro-algae living in them due to warming sea surface temperatures - by simply counting the number of bleached squares on the grid.

"It is a 2D method of measuring something that is 3D - it is inaccurate as it relies a lot on the human eye. The quadratsare also potentially damaging as they are laid on the coral reefs," Ms Smalley-Norman said.

But with the 3D models, it is easier to say with certainty the amount of coral affected by bleaching.

Such measurements help scientists understand the impact of climate change on coral reefs, which are not only tourist spots, but also fish nurseries, she added.

The technology could also help agencies that oversee marine protected areas assess the area over time. For instance, Singapore's National Parks Board could use it to track changes in the 40ha Sisters' Islands Marine Park, located south of the mainland.

"If the technology is used to establish a baseline of each coral now, at a point soon after the marine park was established, and if similar measurements could be made over time, then we can see how the protection is working, and also compare them with areas which are not protected," Ms Smalley-Norman said.

As the technology is compatible with simple point-and-shoot cameras, it could be used easily by citizen scientists, she added.

Dr David Kline, an associate project scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, has worked on projects involving 3D imaging and coral reef conservation.

He told The Straits Times that 3D surveying techniques are a critical advancement in coral reef surveying methods. "Traditional surveying methods obtain only a 2D representation of reefs. But their three-dimensional structure is critical to their function of serving as a home to the incredible biodiversity found there."

Mr Jerker Tamelander, head of the United Nations Environment Programme's Coral Reef Unit, agreed. But he said that 3D technology does not capture "biotic cover" - it does not measure the presence, abundance and diversity of mobile species, including fish. But if the technology is combined with such biological data, valuable information on coral reef structural complexity and changes over time can be gained.

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Does ethical consumption have to cost so much?

VAIDEHI SHAH Today Online 13 May 16;

Eat organic food. Drive an electric car, not a gas-guzzler. Buy clothes made by fairly paid workers: Such calls have grown louder and more frequent in recent years.

While responsible consumption advocates mean well, they often overlook the fact that not everyone can afford these sustainable goods, which are usually more expensive than mass-market products.

The poor are being priced out of sustainable and ethical consumer options, and this is wrong for many reasons.

First, it is a fundamental injustice that pesticide-free food and non-toxic household items are a privilege only for the wealthy.

Second, some may assume that those who do not buy ethical options are ignorant or apathetic. This moral burden is misplaced, as many people simply cannot afford them.

Third, a responsible consumer society will never be a reality if sustainable goods remain out of reach for an entire cross-section of the population.

Many ground-up movements such as food cooperatives and do-it-yourself websites are working to bring healthy and safe essentials to people in an affordable way, but it is not possible to forgo buying from stores altogether.

Do sustainable products in supermarkets have to be so much costlier than their mass-market counterparts? And how can companies and policymakers help make these products affordable for mainstream consumers?

Closer scrutiny is needed over the price mark-ups on sustainable goods.

In Singapore, for example, an online search reveals that organic apples cost four times as much as non-certified ones. Meanwhile, eco-friendly detergent from a speciality brand costs twice as much as those from a housebrand manufacturer.

Yes, responsible manufacturing is not cheap. Obtaining environmental certifications is resource-intensive, as is following industry guidelines on fair labour practices and reporting.

But the lack of data makes it difficult to determine whether the high cost of sustainable products is justified or simply opportunistic marketing targeted at affluent customers, and the only way to get this information is for companies to report it.

One manufacturer which does this is the American clothing company Everlane. The firm, which prides itself on “radical transparency”, breaks down the price of each product into materials, labour, transport, and other expenses, as well as its own cut.

Companies have traditionally been tight-lipped about their finances, arguing that revealing such information would undermine their competitiveness. But Everlane’s continuing growth shows that transparency does not have to mean commercial suicide.

Determining whether a mark-up is fair is bound to be subjective. But if prices are several times higher than the cost of goods sold, then consumers should ask if making goods for only an exclusive segment is truly ethical or just hollow marketing.

Here, governments can help defray costs for companies by providing grants for innovating cost-effective, sustainable technologies or subsidising environmental certifications. They can also introduce legislation on minimum sustainability standards for products.

Singapore already has some schemes in place, such as the National Environment Agency’s Environment Technology Research Programme, which provides seed funding for clean technology development.

The Singapore Government’s recent move to buy only paper that carries the Singapore Green Label environmental certification also shows that the public sector can support sustainable companies by aggregating demand for their products.

The other issue that needs to be addressed is the wide spectrum of standards. While there are regulations governing minimum safety and environmental standards for products, these do not always ensure important outcomes such as avoiding deforestation or exploitation.

Governments are constantly tightening criteria, but bureaucratic progress can be slow. Firms should not passively wait for policies when they can take the lead on improving sustainability across their products — not just for altruistic reasons, but also because of a strong business case for doing so.

For instance, the Norwegian pension fund’s recent decision to drop 11 companies from its portfolio over links to deforestation and the fossil fuel divestment movement shows that businesses must be sustainable to stay afloat.

To some extent, companies like Unilever and Nestle have made it a company-wide policy to source only certified sustainable agricultural raw materials as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use, among other things.

Yet, even so-called leaders in corporate environmental stewardship make products with varying safety and environmental credentials.

Unilever, for example, makes St Ives, a line of all-natural personal care products that are free of parabens, a preservative with suspected but unconfirmed links to cancer. But it also freely admits to using parabens for its Simple brand of toiletries, saying they are safe. This inconsistency is disturbing. Should companies not apply the same standards to all their products?

Would it not be more cost effective for companies to stop spending on developing, designing and marketing multiple unsustainable brands, and instead put their resources behind fewer, sustainable ones? The savings from canning the former could fund certifications or higher wages for the latter.

These are just some ways companies can ensure their products help the rich and poor alike.

We should all keep up the pressure on companies to do this. But while we wait for change, those of us who can afford ethical options should continue to buy them, to signal that there is demand for these products.

Some companies may take this as a sign to continue with business as usual. But more visionary players can use this consumer support to make an affordable, mass-market solution.

This is what American electric automaker Tesla did when it launched the US$35,000 (S$48,000) Model 3 last month. The company’s chairman, Mr Elon Musk, noted that the Model 3’s development was supported by profits from earlier cars, which sold for about US$100,000 each.

Making sustainable, ethical products the new normal should be a top priority for all companies today. As long as it is not their prime concern, this failure will always undermine their sustainability claims or, worse, their bottom line.


Vaidehi Shah is a correspondent for Eco-Business, an Asia-Pacific sustainable business online publication.

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EMA, Singapore Power call for proposals to test energy storage system

The Energy Market Authority and Singapore Power said the initiative was to help them evaluate the performance of large-scale energy storage systems for Singapore.
Channel NewsAsia 12 May 16;

SINGAPORE: The Energy Market Authority (EMA) and Singapore Power (SP) announced on Thursday (May 12) that they were jointly requesting for proposals to implement a utility scale energy storage system test-bed.

The test-bed is projected to be six megawatts in size, which can power 500 four-room HDB flats for a day, EMA and SP said in a press release. They added that the test-bed will evaluate the performance of large-scale energy storage systems for different applications, and "different technologies such as Li-ion, flywheels, and redox flow batteries could be deployed at three substation locations in Singapore".

EMA and SP said that proposals will have to take into account operating conditions under the island-state's hot and humid climate, which impacts the performance of energy storage systems. Space constraints and safety concerns will also have to be factored in "given our highly built-up and urbanised environment", said the agencies.

"Findings from this initiative will help us better understand and facilitate the deployment of energy storage systems in Singapore," EMA and SP said in the press release.

They added that energy storage could help them better manage electricity demand and will facilitate greater deployment of solar energy. This would, in turn, reduce Singapore's carbon footprint and contribute to the Republic's energy independence.

Those interested to submit proposals can do so on EMA's website by 12pm on Aug 3, 2016.

- CNA/mz

Proposals wanted for 6MW energy storage system test-bed
TOH EE MING Channel NewsAsia 13 May 16;

SINGAPORE — Renewable energy sources such as solar power are increasingly being harnessed here, but how and where to store these energy resources is becoming the next focal point for Singapore as it moves towards energy independence and reducing its global carbon footprint.

In a joint press release yesterday, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and Singapore Power called for proposals to implement a test-bed for a grid-level energy storage system.

Projected to be six megawatts (MW) in size — enough to power 500 four-room public housing flats for a day — the test-bed will allow the government agencies to better understand the performance and facilitate the deployment of large-scale energy storage systems in Singapore.

Mr Stanley Huang, Singapore Power’s chief financial officer, said: “This is the first and largest energy storage system test-bed to be conducted on Singapore’s national grid. With more solar energy initiatives, (the storage system) will address the challenge of intermittent solar (photovoltaic) energy due to clouds and rain, and smoothen the power flow at all times of the day and night.”

Solar photovoltaic technologies convert energy from sunlight directly into electricity using solar panels, and a storage system has the potential to allow the authorities to better manage electricity demand.

Technologies capable of storing electricity on a large scale may include lithium-ion batteries, chemical-based redox flow batteries, and mechanical spinning flywheels.

Proposals submitted to the agencies would have to factor in operating conditions such as Singapore’s hot and humid climate, which could affect battery performance, space constraints, as well as safety concerns given the highly built-up and urbanised environment here. The test-bed could be deployed over three substations in Singapore.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of Nanyang Technological University’s Energy Research Institute, said that it was “timely” for Singapore to look at such technologies: “The key opportunity in Singapore is solar (energy), and as you put more solar panels, you have issues of intermittency, (in times of) rainy or cloudy weather … This could create a lot of disturbances on the power grid.”

An energy storage system could ease such fluctuations, he said, and it is crucial to find ways to collect the energy and stabilise the grid to ensure a continuous supply of power.

Mr Koh Leong Hai, programme manager for sustainable building technology at the Energy Research Institute, said that the effectiveness of this test-bed would depend on which technology was used. The safe use of lithium-ion batteries could be a big issue, while flywheels need a lot of space as well as enough energy output to compensate for the power needed to keep them running, he added.

And while redox flow batteries could be a large store of energy, they are still new to the market and can be quite costly.

“Each solution has its own pros and cons, and all of them behave differently … And if ... they are not tested thoroughly, it could also be a challenge,” Mr Koh said.

Even then, Mr Niels de Boer, senior scientist at the Energy Research Institute, lauded the efforts to divert resources into this, noting that the 6MW test site is a “reasonably large” one, showing that Singapore is serious about testing its long-term usability. He warned though that experimenting with a test-bed may hold some risks because Singapore is a high-tech city with facilities that put a high demand on grid availability and grid power.

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Malaysia: Two critical dams in Johor will dry out in two weeks if rainfall remains low

HALIM SAID New Straits Times 12 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: Two critical dams in the state will dry out in as little as two weeks if rainfall levels remain low.

The water level at the Upper Layang dam, which caters to Pasir Gudang and Kota Tinggi residents, and Chongok dam in Mersing are not showing improvement as water levels continue to deplete daily.

State Public Works and Rural and Regional Development Executive Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad, who made the revelation today, said the absence of rainfall at the dams' catchment areas are hindering efforts to restore the two dams to normal level.

"Due to this, the rationing exercise will have to be extended for another month and will affect the areas which had previously been put to the rationing exercise," he said.

He added that without rain and due to the current hot spell, the dams' reserves will probably only last between two weeks and a month before drying out.

As of today, the Upper Layang dam water level stands at 19.25m compared to its critical level of 23.5m while Chongok dam measured at 3.9m as compared to its critical level of 4.8m.

Hasni added the cloud seeding exercise, which had been routinely carried out since April , will now be conducted on a daily basis.

"We will also look into the option of tapping underground water using the Tubewell technology as alternative water source for critical areas.

We will engage Universiti Teknologi Malaysia's expertise for that," he said.

Water rationing soon for 800,000 in JB and Pasir Gudang
NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 12 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: The water level at two major dams continues to worsen despite daily rainfall in the city.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammed said the number of consumers facing scheduled water rationing is expected to increase to 885,000 by the end of the month.

He added that presently, 85,000 consumers in Mersing and Kota Tinggi have been facing scheduled water rationing for the past one month.

"We expect this to continue in the two areas while about 800,000 consumers in Johor Baru and Pasir Gudang will be involved in water rationing by the end of the month," he said at a press conference here Thursday.

Hasni said the two major dams are Empangan Congok and Empangan Layang, adding that the present daily rainfall is not enough in the catchment areas.

885,000 may face water rationing in Johor
The Star 13 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: Unless the water levels at the Congok and Layang dams improve, almost 885,000 consumers in four districts will be affected by scheduled water rationing by the end of the month.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammed said there had not been much improvement in the water levels at both dams despite the downpours in Johor Baru.

“At least 85,000 consumers in the Mersing and Kota Tinggi districts have been experien­cing scheduled water rationing for the past month.

“If the water level at the Layang dam does not increase by the end of this month, some 800,000 consumers in Johor Baru and Pasir Gudang will also face scheduled water rationing,” he told a press conference yesterday.

He added that the Congok dam was only able to supply water for another two weeks while the Layang dam could only supply water for about a month.

Hasni said the state would do more cloud seeding, including those by private companies.

Cloud seeding still on despite the rain
The Star 13 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Strange as it may sound, cloud seeding is still being carried out by the Government to fill dams around the country despite the recent heavy downpour.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau said the current wet spell was not going to last and it was a case of making rain while there were clouds in the sky.

He said water levels at the dams were adversely affected by the dry weather due to the El Nino phenomenon.

“We have been greatly assisted by nature. There have been rains here and there,” he said after the launch of the 27th International Invention and Innovation Exhibition (ITEX16).

He pointed out that the current inter-monsoon rains will cease by the end of the month and will be followed by the normal dry period from June to September.

He said the next opportunity for cloud seeding would be in October.

“So that’s why we are trying to maximize rain harvesting this month until our dams are full,” he said.

Sabah lifts ban on hunting
The Star 13 May 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The temporary freeze on hunting licences in Sabah has been mostly lifted, following a change in weather.

Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya said the issuance of licences was halted in April in view of the hot and dry weather, this is to avoid the possibility of forest fires caused by hunters.

“Now that we are having rain, the freeze is over with immediate effect,” he said in a statement.

However, Baya said, hunting in Kinabatangan was still prohibited because it was still hot and dry there.

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Life in Malaysia scorched by El Nino

Ray Yeh Channel NewsAsia 21 May 16;

NORTHERN MALAYSIA: Like an answer to prayers, rain has returned to Malaysia after several dry and scorching months, but now a new weather spectre beckons - flooding.

Climatologists have predicted the current cycle of El Nino, which has been wreaking havoc across the globe, would tail out by the middle of the year. Signs are now pointing instead to the formation of its climate counterpoint, La Nina, which is characterised by below-average temperatures and higher-than-usual precipitation in Southeast Asia.

The past few days, for instance, have seen heavy downpours and flash floods in parts of Malaysia.

Yet even as major rivers threaten to overflow, water levels at some dams in the country are still worryingly low.

The effects of the 2015/16 El Nino phenomenon - one of the strongest ever recorded - continue to be keenly felt by many Malaysians. Indeed, its full impact around the world has been described as “devastating and far-reaching” by United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) president Oh Joon.

As hot and dry gives way to cool and wet, Channel NewsAsia looks back at how El Nino has impacted the lives of Malaysian residents.


In mid-April, at the peak of the El Nino drought, the possibility of water rationing was raised in northern Perlis, Malaysia’s smallest state. One of the affected areas was Kaki Bukit, a small village near the Malaysian-Thai border.

Fortunately for Madam Nusara Chuwat, a long-time resident there who runs a small eatery out of her home, the rationing did not materialise in the end. But she and her family were prepared in any case.

“We store water in tubs like this,” she said, pointing to a lidded black tub placed near the drain. “I change the water every few days, if there are mosquitoes.”

Like Mdm Nusara and her family, many Kaki Bukit villagers are of Thai-Chinese descent. Songkran - the Thai New Year usually marked by the throwing and sprinkling of water - was a subdued event this year.

“It was bad. They said no water, so they asked us not to play with water,” she said, noting that the hot and dry spell was “the worst” she had ever experienced.


In March and April, Peninsular Malaysia received 60 per cent less rainfall than in previous years. Record-high temperatures in Perlis and Kedah forced schools to close on several occasions.

Ms Sabrina Hashim, 33, a primary school teacher, said: “Temperature reached 41 degrees Celsius. Before the schools closed, teachers would brief the students on the dangers of the hot weather, so that the kids would not play outdoors even at home.”

Ms Sabrina said teachers were disappointed that scheduled outdoor programmes that took months to plan could not be carried out. “We were forced to postpone them.”

According to her, although water rationing was announced by the Malaysian Public Works Department, “they didn’t stop the water, only the water pressure is low.”

To cope with this, some teachers resorted to bathing in school. “The schools had big water tanks, and their homes had low water pressure, so they would bring their clothes along to bathe at school.”


Over in the state of Kedah, despite the recent rainfall, Beris Dam in Sik district was only at 32.5 per cent of its capacity as of May 12.

The prolonged dry spell depleted dams and affected agricultural output across different states, spurring the spike in fresh produce prices by as much as two to four times.

Greengrocer Mr Johari Ahmad, 56, held up some red chillis. “This used to be RM10, now it’s RM25,” he said.

Pointing to another item at his stall in a farmers’ market in Alor Setar, he added: “Sawi (mustard greens) from Cameron Highlands used to be about RM2. Today it’s RM7.”

Mr Johari and his wife, Mdm Arnita Safitri, 40, spent hours each night bargaining at the wholesaler’s market due to the reduced supply. “The farmers growing vegetables dig their own wells to store water, but then the wells dry up, and they can’t grow vegetables anymore. But demand remains high,” he said.

“Before, if we wanted 20kg, the wholesalers could give it, but now if we ask for 20kg, they give us 10kg.”

Fishmonger Mr Haji Awang Ahmad, 63, faced similar problems. He said: “There are fewer prawns from the sea. The seawater becomes hot, and the prawns go to the coral reefs (to hide).”

Fish such as mackerel that used to cost less than RM10 per kilogramme “now costs RM12 to RM16”, said Mr Haji, whose income took a hit as a result.

“During normal season, I’d earn RM2,000 per day. Now I earn about RM1,400 to RM1,600 per day,” he said.

Mr Zakaria Osman, a 53-year-old fruit grocer, deemed the drought the “worst ever in history”. He said: “I used to earn about RM500 a day, now my income has reduced by half to about RM200.”


Besides leaner earnings, these stallholders have also taken a hit to their health from prolonged hours of work in the sweltering heat.

“Medical expenses also increase because we get sick more. If I don’t drink enough water while selling here, I get fever tomorrow. The kids get fever too,” said Mr Johari.

Malaysia’s health ministry recorded more than a dozen heat exhaustion cases and at least two heat stroke-induced deaths during the heatwave.

“Those working in the fields suffer more,” said Ms Nor Syafiqah, who works at a vineyard near Beris Dam. “We’re worried, because the heat can be dangerous. That’s why we always make sure we have enough water.”


Despite the record-high temperatures, the vineyard’s harvest was “the same as in previous years”, she said. The vineyard uses a generator to pump water from a river upstream of Beris Dam.

“The skin of the grapes may break and black spots appear on some of the grapes, but we clean the fruits daily, so the effect isn’t so much.”

According to the latest forecast by the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Climate Centre, rainfall over Malaysia should return to normal by June. However, the air temperature would likely remain slightly above average.

It could also take Malaysia several months to replenish its dams because rainfall is typically lowest during the southwest monsoon, which usually begins in May.


IHS Global Insights, a firm providing investor insights, estimates that economic losses caused by El Nino in Southeast Asia could top US$10 billion (S$13.4 billion).

However, the price on human suffering is incalculable. The United Nations (UN) estimates that 60 million people are affected by drought and other extreme weather events triggered by El Nino. Water shortages have left millions in desperate need of food, water and medical care.

"Those running food and drink stalls face problems getting water, and have to close their stalls for extended periods," said Nur Adila, who works at a food stall her relative owns near the Beris Dam.
The UN has urged the international community to boost efforts to reduce the risk of humanitarian crises caused by El Nino.

“We must remember that El Nino is not a one-off event but recurring global phenomena that we must address for future generations,” said ECOSOC President Oh Joon on May 6, at the opening of a special UN meeting to address the impact of the 2015/16 El Nino phenomenon.

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Malaysia: Stop slash and burn by farmers, Jakarta told


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has urged Indonesia to rethink allowing its smallholders to carry out open burning to clear land.

This traditional method, if stopped, will help lessen the transboundary haze that plagues Malaysia annually, said Natural Resource and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

“I understand that it is a tradition for Indonesia but if possible, we would like it to be stopped.

“I was told that every smallholder with land less than two hectares is allowed to conduct open burning but what happens if there are 100 such farmers,” he said at a press conference after opening the 18th International Surveyors’ Congress yesterday.

Wan Junaidi said the decision lay with Indonesia on how to handle land clearing because it was an internal affair.

He said Malaysia could only ask Indonesia to proactively take steps to lessen the impact, such as by putting out the fires immediately and closely supervising its peat areas.

“I was told that 20 concessions for plantations in peat areas in Indonesia have ended,” he said.

Also, Wan Junaidi was confident that the transboundary haze issue could be solved through the government to government (G2G) initiative proposed by Indonesia.

It was reported that a memorandum of understanding between Malaysia and Sumatra province on the issue could not go forward.

Indonesia instead proposed that the problem be addressed through G2G cooperation.

Wan Junaidi said the rationale behind this was logical, it would be more effective to tackle the haze with the cooperation of the Indonesian government.

A technical meeting will take place on May 30 in Indonesia to discuss the instruments needed for the G2G initiative.

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Rare Sumatran rhino born in Indonesia

AFP Yahoo News 12 May 16;

A Sumatran rhino gave birth to a female calf at a sanctuary in Indonesia on Thursday, taking the critically endangered species a step further away from extinction.

The baby was born at 5:40 am on western Sumatra island, and within hours was walking around and feeding from its mother, authorities said.

It was the second baby born to rhino Ratu. Her previous birth four years ago marked the first time a Sumatran rhino had been born in an Asian breeding facility for more than 140 years.

The new calf and Ratu, whose name means "Queen" in Indonesian, were both in good health although the mother looked "exhausted", the government said.

"We are very thankful for this birth, as Sumatran rhinos are rare animals," environment ministry spokesman Novrizal Tahar told AFP.

Ratu was observed stretching in her maternity pen in recent days, a signal her long-anticipated delivery was nearing.

The birth took around two hours. Just two hours after being born, the calf -- which has not yet been named -- began walking and feeding, according a statement from the forestry ministry.

The birth "demonstrates the government of Indonesia's commitment, in cooperation with the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, towards rhino conservation efforts in Indonesia," it added.

- Under threat -

Sumatran rhinos are extremely rare, with just 100 believed to exist in the world. The birth is a major boon for the species, which last year was declared extinct in Malaysia.

Ratu, a wild rhino who wandered out of the rainforest and into the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park a decade ago, had become pregnant after meeting with Andalas, a male rhino at the park.

Ratu's first baby, Andatu, was born at the sanctuary in 2012.

Births of Sumatran rhinos in captivity are rare. Thursday's birth was only the fifth of a Sumatran rhino in a breeding facility.

Despite being the smallest of the five remaining rhino species, Sumatran rhinos have very long pregnancies that last about 16 months.

Harapan -- the brother of Andalas -- was transferred from the United States to the Sumatran sanctuary last November in the hope he would find a mate.

In March, environmentalists made physical contact with a Sumatran rhino on the Indonesian part of Borneo island for the first time in 40 years, but it died a month later.

Covered in woolly hair ranging from reddish brown to black in colour, Sumatran rhinos are the only Asian rhinoceroses with two horns.

While Javan rhinos are considered the world's rarest, Sumatran rhinos are under increasing threat.

They are targeted by poachers as their horns and other body parts fetch high prices on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

In addition, their rainforest habitat on Sumatra island is being destroyed due to the rapid expansion of palm oil and pulp and paper plantations.

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80 percent of world's city dwellers breathing bad air: UN

AFP Yahoo News 12 May 16;

Geneva (AFP) - Over 80 percent of the world's city dwellers breathe poor quality air, increasing their risk of lung cancer and other life-threatening diseases, a new World Health Organization (WHO) report warned Thursday.

Urban residents in poor countries are by far the worst affected, WHO said, noting that nearly every city (98 percent) in low- and middle-income countries has air which fails to meet the UN body's standards.

That number falls to 56 percent of cities in wealthier countries.

"Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health," Maria Neira, the head of WHO's department of public health and environment, said in a statement.

The UN agency's latest air pollution database reveals an overall deterioration of air in the planet's cities, and highlights the growing risk of serious health conditions also including stroke and asthma.

The report, which focused on outdoor rather than household air, compared data collected from 795 cities in 67 countries between 2008 and 2013.

Tracking the prevalence of harmful pollutants like sulfate and black carbon, WHO found that air quality was generally improving in richer regions like Europe and North America, but worsening in developing regions, notably the Middle East and southeast Asia.

Overall, contaminants in outdoor air caused more than 3 million premature deaths a year, the UN body said.

The quality of air pollution data provided by individual countries varies considerably, and WHO does not compile a ranking of the world's most polluted cities.

But, in a sample of selected mega-cities with a population above 14 million, New Delhi was the most polluted, followed by Cairo and Bangladesh's capital Dhaka.

Crucially, key African centres like Nigeria’s mega-city Lagos were excluded from the list because of the sparse availability of air quality data in many parts of the continent, WHO said.

A sample of European data showed that Rome had slightly worse air than Berlin, followed by London and Madrid.

- Key factors -

Carlos Dora, coordinator at WHO's public health and environment department, pointed to several key factors that determine the quality of a city's air.

First was transportation, Dora said, noting that cities which succeed in reducing vehicle traffic while promoting walking, cycling and mass public transport inevitably see their air quality improve.

Energy inefficiency -- especially with respect to heating and cooling buildings -- is a major cause of dirty air, along with the widespread use of diesel generators as a replacement for cleaner electricity sources, Dora added.

Another crucial factor, especially in developing countries, is waste management, with the smoke generated by burning garbage ranking among the top pollutants.

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Fiji reefs under stress

Losalini Bolatagici Fiji Times 13 May 16;

NOT only have reefs in Fiji sustained mechanical damage from Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston but a recent survey reveals that reefs are also under bleaching stress from the El Nino cycle.

Wild Conservation Society (WCS) director Dr Sangeeta Mangubhai said the reefs showed signs of coral bleaching of about 20 per cent caused by thermal stress from the El Nino cycle based on a 10-day survey she carried out at the Vatu-i-Ra seascape after the cyclone.

She said post-cyclone, the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees and ranged from 27-28 degrees Celcius, which if continued, would help corals return to normal.

The road to recovery, she said, would depend on how well corals successfully reproduced and their larvae settled on to reefs.

She said her concern was that corals under bleaching stress would invest their energy in staying alive, and would forfeit reproduction for about 12 months.

If this happened, she said, the recovery of Fiji's reefs might be slow or delayed.

"This is the first time I am aware of that our reefs have had to deal with both climate-induced bleaching stress and the mechanical damage from a cyclone.

"It is going to be even more important over the next 12 months and longer for us to look after our coral reefs in Fiji to give them the best fighting chance of recovery.

"Instead of seeing them as infinite resources for us to use without limit, we should see them like our gardens and plantations, needing care and maintenance to ensure they grow and remain healthy."

Coral Bleaching in Fiji worst seen in 16 years
Jacquee Speight Fiji Broadcasting Corporation 15 May 16;

Fiji has lost about 50% of the corals on our shallow reef areas due to coral bleaching- something which is of great concern for communities along the coast.

The world’s oceans continue to heat up from the combined impacts of El Nino and climate change.
Director Reef Explorer, Fiji Victor Bonito says reefs along Viti Levu’s coral coast have not been spared.

“The El-Nino this year on top of our slowly increasing sea water temperatures sort of pushed us over a really high temperature threshold. This is the worst bleaching that we’ve had experienced along the coral coast since Fiji experienced its first mass bleaching event back in 2000.”

Bonito fears the marine life that helped damaged corals to recover last time may be in decline and it is for this reason that Pacific nations need to take action to ensure their reefs remain sustainable.

Scientists estimate that half the coral in protected reefs around Fiji have been bleached.

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