Torrential rain in Singapore causes flash floods, fallen trees

A woman was taken to hospital after a tree fell at the junction of Woodlands Avenue 1 and Woodlands Street 32 on Friday evening.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Torrential rains in Singapore on Friday (Jun 17) caused flash floods and felled trees in parts of Singapore.

In a Facebook post, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said waist-high flash floods on Friday afternoon caused some vehicles to stall along Enterprise Road. It was alerted to the floods at about 4.30pm. A total of 11 people - including the elderly - were evacuated in life vests, SCDF said, adding that there were no injuries.

In a Facebook post on Friday evening, eyewitness Thessa Huiying detailed her experience of being stuck in the floods while aboard a bus. "Things happened real quickly. Within 10 minutes, water was rising rapidly. Thank you to the SBS bus driver uncle (Bus No. 252) who took the wise choice of not driving through (for the safety of everyone)," she wrote.

In a separate incident, a woman was taken to hospital after a tree fell at the junction of Woodlands Avenue 1 and Woodlands Street 32 on Friday evening.

SCDF said it was alerted to the incident at about 6.25pm and sent an ambulance to the scene. They then conveyed the woman, who is in her 30s, to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the tree is under the National Parks Board's purview and was cleared from the road at about 8.30pm.

At about 7pm on Friday, another tree fell along Tiong Bahru Road. No injuries occurred as a result, according to SCDF.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the tree was cleared by about 9.30pm.

- CNA/dl

Flash floods trap 11 in Jurong West
WONG PEI TING Today Online 18 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE – A few vehicles, including an SBS bus with passengers on board, were stranded in a flash flood along Enterprise Road in Jurong West following heavy rain on Friday afternoon (June 17).

The waters were “waist high” said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), which had deployed life vests in its rescue.

A total of 11 people, some of whom were elderly, were evacuated from the stranded vehicles to safety. No injuries were reported.

In a video that was shared on Facebook at 4.22pm, floodwaters could be seen seeping onto the platform of Bus 252. Facebook user Thessa Huiying said: “I’m stuck in the bus flooded by the heavy downpour ... water is rising rapidly. I hope I make it out alive.”

Heavy rain causes commuters to be stranded in flooded bus
AsiaOne 18 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) had to be called in after waist-high flash floods caused some bus commuters to be stranded at Enterprise Road on Friday (June 17) afternoon.

Facebook user Thessa Huiying, who was travelling on bus service 252 at the time, wrote that water rose rapidly within a span of 10 minutes.

She posted photos of the flooded bus and road, as well as videos that show lorries driving through the murky water despite being partially submerged.

In her post, she thanked the bus captain for choosing to stop the vehicle, adding that he apologised to commuters for the delay even though he did not need to.

on Facebook

She also thanked the SCDF for checking on the commuters and reassuring them. One Malay officer even joked with an elderly man in Chinese to lighten the mood, she said.

on Facebook

In a Facebook post, SCDF said that other vehicles were also stalled in the flood.

After receiving an alert on the floods at 4.30pm, the SCDF helped to evacuate a total of 11 people in life vests.

There were no reported injuries.

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Who’s on the frontlines of conservation? A bunch of (expert) amateurs ...

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 18 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Whom might you turn to for help to identify a rare spider, stick insect or butterfly in Singapore? Try a retired diplomat, a colorectal surgeon and an architect, respectively.

Mr Joseph Koh, Dr Francis Seow-Choen and Mr Khew Sin Khoon are part of a small but valuable pool of “amateur experts” on various creatures in the animal kingdom here. Over the decades, they have happily contributed to science by pursuing their interests to what fellow hobbyists might consider dizzying heights.

Despite their amateur status, their contributions and expertise arguably have never been more important, with environmental conservation regularly coming to the fore in public debate here, most recently in the development of the future Cross Island MRT line (CRL) and its possible impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and threats to biodiversity worldwide.

For instance, Mr Koh, an authority on spiders in Singapore, is part of the working group in talks with the Land Transport Authority on the CRL.

Some also help in biodiversity surveys spearheaded by the National Parks Board (NParks) — Dr Seow-Choen, Mr Koh, Mr Khew and Nature Society Singapore Bird Group’s Alan Owyong are involved in a survey at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Ecolink@BKE.

Many amateur naturalists are able to spend more hours in the field than some specialists, and thus represent the frontlines of nature study and documentation, said NSS president Shawn Lum.

There are very few professional biologists and ecologists active in the NSS, whose ranks include many of Singapore’s most respected amateur experts, said Dr Lum, a lecturer and tropical forest ecologist.

“A number of the amateur naturalists are as technically capable as professional botanists or zoologists in some aspects of the field, and they invariably have an enthusiasm and love for nature — and a willingness to speak up and to be counted — in a way that is arguably more muted among the professionals,” he said.

Except for Mr Koh, who studied zoology at university before entering the civil service, the amateur experts had no formal training in biology or zoology, and do not make a living in the field. Many of them simply followed their natural curiosity piqued from a young age.

For instance, Mr Khew, the chief executive officer of CPG Corporation, which does building consultancy and facilities management, fell in love with butterflies when he was growing up in Malaysia. A pioneer of the ButterflyCircle, a group of enthusiasts and hobbyist photographers, he authored the Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, published in 2010.

Birder Lim Kim Seng, 56, had nature at his doorstep growing up on a family farm in Sembawang. He developed an interest in birds because he found them easier to observe and identify than other groups of animals or plants. However, he made little headway before he joined the then Malayan Nature Society at the age of 15.

With a background in mechanical engineering, he spent 25 years in the manufacturing sector before going for his Master of Science in Environmental Management, and is now a part-time lecturer and full-time nature guide. What stayed constant was the devotion to his interest: He penned books on birds, participated in research and helped in the development of NSS’ Birds of Singapore app, driven by passion, a thirst for knowledge and the desire to make things easier for others wanting to learn more.

“After (some) time, you find you’ve reached that point: What should I do? Maybe what I need to do is to document all this information somewhere that can benefit other people, because I had a hard time picking it up. In the future, it shouldn’t be so difficult. I think that was what drove me,” said Mr Lim. His first book, in 1992, was on the vanishing birds of Singapore; he wrote field guides in 1997 and 2010, and two more books in 2009.


Some of the amateur experts, such as Mr Lim and fellow birder Professor Ng Soon Chye, firmly reject the label of “expert” or “authority”.

“Please specify I’m not an expert, I don’t want to go under false pretenses,” said Prof Ng, a gynaecologist and one of the men behind Asia’s first test-tube baby in 1983. “Maybe I know more than the general public but that’s about that ... It’s (the) small efforts by everybody that make a movement,” said Prof Ng, 66, who has published scientific papers on birds.

Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore, calls them “professional amateurs”. They may know less about the rules and procedures of taxonomy — the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms — than full-time scientists like himself. And in their obsession with a particular kind of creature, they are different from naturalists with their broad knowledge of conservation and the environment, he said. “It’s the intensity and purpose that’s different.”

Many of the amateur experts here have built distinguished careers, but have brought similar levels of energy and professionalism to their hobby. “They’ve taken their hobby to another level, and that level makes them pretty good scientists,” said Prof Peter Ng, whose museum works with many of these individuals and has appointed some as honorary research affiliates.

The Natural History Museum nurtures their hobbies. The amateur experts might need references or specimens from other countries that they cannot get as private individuals. Or they might need tools such as microscopes or cameras.

Does the presence and relative prominence of these professional amateurs mean that the pool of biologists and zoologists here is very small? Every natural history museum has limitations in size and budget, said Prof Peter Ng. “Some people say a museum or university should have experts on every group of animals. Impossible! Why? There are too many kinds of animals, and despite what some people may claim, it’s impossible to be an expert on everything,” he said.

“You’re talking about millions of species of animals. To know one group very well requires lots of energy and time. Even the largest museums in the world can’t afford this luxury.”

Working with the amateur experts allows the museum to augment its pool of experts “straightaway”.

“And the nice thing is, we don’t have to pay them — I always call them free labour,” quipped Prof Peter Ng. “I always say all of us are crazy; our madness bonds us.”


So why didn’t the amateur experts pursue their interests as a career? Pragmatic parents and a relative lack of opportunities and jobs available in biology and zoology were among the reasons cited. But they expressed few, if any, regrets about their choices.

Spider expert Mr Koh said he simply followed his heart after graduation in 1972 and applied for a position at the Singapore Administrative Service. It was “a calling that had eclipsed my passion for spiders”, but it did not mean giving up arachnology, he said.

“At a time when ensuring the survival and prosperity of Singapore was our national preoccupation, the Singapore Armed Forces and the civil service were powerful magnets for many young people looking for purpose and meaning in life,” said Mr Koh.

The National Parks Board (NParks) is another institution that benefits from collaborating with amateur experts, who help identify species and verify the number of species in various areas. With deep knowledge in specific taxa, the amateur experts provide NParks with advice on enhancing parks or roadside greenery to make them more conducive to biodiversity, said Dr Lena Chan, group director of NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre. “They are reliable sources of detailed data as they have accumulated many years of experience.”

Besides equipment, NParks supplies resources from the Singapore Botanic Gardens Herbarium and Library, and it facilitates access permits for the amateur experts.

The National Biodiversity Centre also has two schemes to support individuals in their research: The Honorary Research Associate Scheme and, for emerging researchers and enthusiasts, the Research Fellowship Scheme.

The nature community is confident of a younger generation ready to take over the reins in due time. Young naturalists are making good contributions to groups of animals that the public is less aware of, such as dragonflies, lady beetles, bees, ants and various marine organisms, said Dr Lum.

Prof Peter Ng would not predict who among the younger ones could follow in the footsteps of today’s amateur experts. Those in their 20s and 30s would be in the midst of developing their careers and families, and their fascination would develop along the way, he said. “I think we’ll probably see them blossoming when they’re in their 50s … But I can predict there will be a lot more.”

Spiders are ‘intellectual detective work’ for retired S’pore diplomat
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 18 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Spend an hour or two with spider expert Joseph Koh, and one is bound to go away with a much greater appreciation of these arachnids — and perhaps, ideas on alternative uses for pantyhose.

During a short walk in Bukit Brown cemetery last week, the 67-year-old retired diplomat found a spider that mimics ants, and another that had spun beautiful barrier webs to protect its main web, among others.

The Myrmarachne maxillosa waves its front legs in the air to simulate ant antennae, has slender legs, and also constricts part of its body to resemble the three-part body of an ant.

On why a spider would want to “pretend” to be an ant, Mr Koh said that most predators leave ants alone because they can bite and inject formic acid.

As for the “textbook shot” of barrier webs made by the Nephila pilipes (or Giant Golden web spider) — spun only by juveniles — Mr Koh shared a fact that he said women love to hear: Females can outweigh males by 30 times.

On the way back to his home nearby, Mr Koh showed how he had improvised and created his own aspirator, a device to suck up small spiders without harming them, and without having the spiders end up in his mouth — by slotting a piece of his wife’s pantyhose between two tubes attached to each other.

The bubbly retiree’s interest in spiders began long before he studied zoology at the then-University of Singapore. His late businessman father bought him many wildlife and natural history magazines, and guidebooks on various animals. The old Raffles Museum at Stamford Road became his favourite haunt.

When he was around 14, his father introduced him to macrophotography, prompting him to look closely for smaller creatures in gardens and nature reserves.

He was drawn to the sheer diversity of spiders in Singapore, and what has kept him going for more than 40 years is the delight and challenge of “intellectual detective work in getting a spider identified or described”.

Identifying Southeast Asian spiders is not as straightforward as identifying butterflies or dragonflies where the names may be quickly traced in reference books, Mr Koh said. He has to track down scientific literature, decipher descriptions, compare closely related specimens and narrow down possibilities, then make a judgment of what the specimen is or is not.

Mr Koh has described 13 new species of spiders, three from Singapore and 10 from Brunei, and has written a guide on common Singapore spiders and another book on the spiders of Borneo.

He has not slowed down since retirement in 2012, willingly taking young naturalists under his wing by leading field trips, welcoming them to work in his lab at home, and writing papers with them.

He has also pledged his 12,000 specimen collection to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and is involved in various groups helping to conserve or enhance nature in Singapore.

He is working on a new book on spiders here, where he estimates there are about 800 species.

One of his recent interns is Rachel Ashton Lim, 19, who is enrolling in a liberal arts school in the United States and wants to major in environmental analysis. Calling Mr Koh a “really good teacher” who encourages creative thinking, she said: “Something I learnt that was quite valuable for me was that in nature, there’s the intersection between the sciences and the arts… You have to appreciate every single little detail, even on the smallest spider.”

Droppings boiled into tea sparked his interest on stick insects
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 18 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — He kept rabbits, hamsters and cats as a young boy, but it is stick insects that he finds most fascinating to this day.

When he was in kindergarten, Dr Francis Seow-Choen found out about these insects because people in villages were keeping them to collect their droppings in order to boil tea for medicinal purposes. His mother managed to get some stick insects from the meat seller in the market and his fascination for them grew as he kept them.

“They’re beautiful, they’re harmless, they come in a variety of fashion — not just sticks but also leaves,” Dr Seow, 59, said. “They don’t have poison, don’t bite people, don’t spread Zika (virus),” the top colorectal surgeon in private practice added.

When threatened, stick insects play dead, camouflage themselves, or drop their legs (auto-amputate), he explained.

Dr Seow wanted to pursue veterinary surgery in university, but was told by the Public Service Commission interview panel to study something else because there were no cows or sheep in Singapore that required care. It was only after he became a doctor and returned from surgical training in London that he renewed his interest in stick insects.

There was little he could find about them in books and the library. When he contacted the National University of Singapore zoology department, staff members encouraged him to study them.

From 1989, he built up a formidable body of knowledge on the insects — also called phasmids — and has written four books on them so far. The latest, launched this month, is titled A Taxonomic Guide to the Stick Insects of Borneo, the result of his explorations and work over two decades.

Among 337 species featured are 52 new ones, classified under 15 new genera, described by him.

When he can find time out of his packed work schedule to head overseas, Dr Seow would venture out to forested areas at seven or eight at night with a hand torch, and stay out until five in the morning. “Because if I’m there and it takes a long time to get there, I don’t want to waste any time,” he said.

Just as challenging was the need to check with museums for old specimens, to avoid re-describing species, and translating old books that had described species in other languages. The science of naming organisms, or taxonomy, was “fraught with minefields” and the work was “much more difficult than writing a medical paper”, he said.

On his interest, Dr Seow — who added a hyphen between his surname and first name to keep it intact and minimise confusion when in London and after he began writing scientific papers — said: “It’s relaxing in that it’s something you enjoy. Insects don’t sue you or complain to you. Of course, it’s stressful if you’re (on a trip) looking for things and you don’t find anything new.”

He keeps some stick insects in the compound of his home for studies on breeding patterns and eggs, for example. Dr Seow is also discussing another more comprehensive survey of stick insects in Singapore with the authorities.

He estimates that there are about 52 species here, potentially more.

Both generalists and specialists have a role in getting the public more interested in nature, he said. People kill animals such as snakes because they don’t understand them and don’t understand what the loss of a single species means to Singapore or to ecology, he said.

“In life, we can be generalists and know a bit about everything, which I think is good. But I think it’s even better to know everything about a few things. Then, you are the expert and can contribute more to science and also to the world and to nature in general,” he said.

Gynaecologist goes from observing sea life to watching birds
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 18 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Before he trained his sights on birds, gynaecologist Ng Soon Chye was keener on marine life, heading often to the shores and reefs of Labrador and the Southern Islands to collect specimens.

In fact, he wanted to apply to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, for undergraduate studies but his father was “more pragmatic” and had reservations about making a living from marine biology at the time.

“But no regrets,” said Professor Ng, 66, who studied medicine and later became a pioneer in assisted reproduction.

His interest in birds grew after outings with some birdwatchers during his house-officer days. Then, members of the bird study group of the Malayan Nature Society’s Singapore branch were mainly from the British army.

When the troops withdrew, the bird study group needed more locals and Prof Ng stepped forward to become its chairman, and the group went on many bird-ringing trips.

Once, in a wondrous turn of events, a curlew sandpiper — a migratory bird with a large range that breeds near Russia — which Prof Ng had ringed at the Serangoon Sludge Treatment Works, was netted and identified months later in Melbourne by the study group’s ex-chairman, who had relocated to Australia.

When Prof Ng was doing National Service as a medical officer in the navy, he spent 1.5 months on a ship in the South China Sea, observed migrating barn swallows and published a paper on them.

He later devoted more of his energy to a magnificent bird, the hornbill. “It’s not that I was no longer interested in other birds, but I didn’t have so much time,” he said.

Hornbills are “really large birds, iconic, on top of the food chain and they are like markers of the forest. You can tell the health of the forest or jungle by having an idea of the fauna at the top of the food chain”.

From 2004, Prof Ng initiated a project with fellow birder Marc Cremades to study and enhance the population of the Oriental Pied Hornbill, which had not been recorded in Singapore for over 70 years until it was sighted in 1994.

From being seen primarily on Pulau Ubin, the bird became sighted quite frequently all over mainland Singapore within a decade. Hornbills nest in hollow cavities of trees and, when breeding, the female would be confined in a sealed nest with a small gap for the male to pass food through.

Artificial nests were also used in the Singapore Hornbill Project, which increased understanding of its breeding cycle and habits, such as through observations of infanticide-cannibalism where the mother hornbill kills weaker chicks and feeds them to other offspring.

Prof Ng also took up videography and went on field trips in Thailand with world-renowned hornbill expert, Dr Pilai Poonswad. She would identify the hornbills’ nesting area, and Prof Ng would capture video footage of the goings-on.

“I’m more interested in action, maybe as a result of watching movies and Nat Geo,” he said.

Due to age and shifting priorities, Prof Ng has cut down on birding activities but stands ready to help animal facilities in the reproduction of species.

He does not consider himself an authority on birds, but has certainly inspired others.

Mr Lim Kim Seng, 56, who has written five books on birds, said Prof Ng led the first trip he went on decades ago. “I’d say he was one of my mentors when I took up birding…I was inspired too, to be as keen as him,” said Mr Lim.

Butterflies not in his stomach, but in his blood
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 18 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Helping his daughter with her school science projects in the 1980s rekindled Mr Steven Neo’s interest in butterflies, the flying jewels of the insect world.

There was no stopping him after that: Mr Neo, 65, whose career was in estate management and the building industry, did research in the library, began re-collecting specimens and studying butterflies and their relationship with fruit plants and other insects, as well as their life history.

On field trips, he would collect the eggs if he saw butterflies laying them, to breed them and document the details. “People have butterflies in the stomach, I have butterflies in my blood,” he quipped.

When he agreed to requests to write a guidebook on butterflies in the 1990s, Mr Neo had to first find out “how to write a book”, and decided to do it in a way that the layperson would understand.

He revved up his energy, bought a camera and spent daytime on weekends chasing butterflies, and nights writing on WordPerfect software. This went on for more than a year and he came close to 100 species. “Some (species) I couldn’t get photos of, so had to forgo when the deadline came,” he said.

Mr Neo wanted to increase the public’s understanding of butterflies. “I do find that most Singaporeans would want very clinical and clean parks,” he said.

Fogging, for instance, would get rid of mosquitoes – but also butterflies and other insects that are part of the larger ecosystem.

Described by Nature Society Singapore (NSS) president Shawn Lum as among the first local naturalists to master butterflies, Mr Neo got hooked on butterflies as a schoolboy through his late brother, who had friends and a teacher keen on the subject.

His brother made a butterfly net out of mosquito net, and both boys would venture into the countryside.

After his pocket-size guide was published in 1996, Mr Neo got acquainted with other butterfly experts such as Mr Khew Sin Khoon and together, the group accumulated more knowledge.

Once, Mr Neo spotted some small butterflies breeding on plants at a Simei petrol kiosk, documented them and, through Mr Khew, sought out other experts to verify the species. It turned out to be the Pale Grass Blue, a species new to Singapore.

Mr Neo also conducted walks once or twice a month and started the butterfly interest group in the NSS. Around 2005, an accident during a road trip to Malaysia with fellow enthusiasts led to a compression fracture in his spine. That, coupled with a job that required frequent travel, led to a “hibernation” phase.

He retired last month and reckons he will be heading out into the field more frequently now. He hopes to see monarch butterflies in the United States – where his son now lives – on their spectacular annual migration again.

His son has also encouraged Mr Neo to take his infant grandson on butterfly-spotting outings.

Mr Neo, who has two diplomas in estate management and business, said he is content pursuing butterflies as a hobby.

“Learning through observation is, to me, much more interesting than just the theoretical, academic part (where you) just go and study. When I’m in the forest observing butterflies…I feel at ease and the enjoyment of nature is a feeling that cannot be replaced,” he said.

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The 'living treasures' of Pulau Ubin

In 938LIVE’s Heritage & History this week, Chew Wui Lynn hops on board a boat and explores Pulau Ubin, meeting some of the estimated 38 residents who still call the island home.
Chew Wui Lynn, 938LIVE Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: From around 1950 to 1970, there were more than 2,000 workers on Pulau Ubin, who worked in either its quarries, or plantations. It was home to coffee, nutmeg, pineapple, coconut, durian, tobacco and rubber plantations, as well farms for prawns, fish and poultry.

By the 1970s, however, the granite mining industry began to decline, and soon to follow were commercial crop cultivation and rubber tapping, which ended in the 1980s. In 2012, it was recorded that just 38 residents remain on Pulau Ubin.

Today, when one steps onto the island, they will be transported back to the Singapore of 50 years ago. The buildings in and around Ubin are mostly low-rise, zinc-roofed structures, and residents use well water for drinking and washing their clothes.

Some of the residents are wildlife experts, and can identify the various kinds of hornbills on the island. Others have an extensive knowledge of herbs, and say they can sell them for up to S$100 a kilogramme.


Anthropologist Dr Vivienne Wee was one piqued by the island life. She carried out a year-long study on the lifestyles of Pulau Ubin’s residents and former residents under a Cultural Mapping Project commissioned by the National Heritage Board.

She shared some anecdotes on some of the island's residents: "These 38 people represent the number of people who live on the island every day. For instance, there's Osman who has a kayak. He will paddle all the way out to Sekudu, or Frog Island, and would come back with several kilos of the little fish you find in nasi lemak.

“There’s also a woman here who’s very knowledgeable in herbs, and when I showed her a medicinal book of Chinese herbs, she could name all of them. She can even tell if it grows here, or in Singapore, or elsewhere,” Dr Wee added.

She also said that most of the residents work in Singapore, and cannot make the last boat which pushes off at 6pm. As such, they would rather come back on weekends.


A long-time Ubin resident is Mr Tan Leong Kit, a former quarry worker who quit due to health reasons. He also used to rear air-flown piglets from the US and sell to other farmers back when he used to have a pig farm in Bishan.

His farm then folded, which led him to set up a drinks stall on the island and and later open an ice kachang stall in Bedok. The elderly Tan makes about S$1,000 a month selling drinks, and S$300 from cleaning a local temple.

“I grow herbs mostly. I'm old now, so I need to stay in a quiet place," Mr Tan shared. "When one is getting on in years, one needs a quiet place. I have children and grandchildren, and it can get very noisy."

Another long-time islander is 80-year-old Ahmad Kassim, who lives in a house his late father built. Recalled its history, he said:" We came from Malaya, when the Japanese invaded and the British left.

"To build a house, I had to put up the support pillars and secure them, when the supports were complete, I used zinc for the roof," Mr Ahmad added. "I had neighbours to help me out. But nowadays, people have money and do not build houses with their own two hands.”

938LIVE’s Chew Wui Lynn brings us Pulau Ubin's highlights in this week’s Heritage & History. Stream or download the podcast here:

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Indonesia's latest comments on Transboundary Haze Pollution Act a 'good outcome': Masagos

In a Facebook post on Friday (Jun 17), Singapore's Environment Minister said he welcomed an Indonesian official's comments that Jakarta was serious about tackling forest fires that contributed to transboundary haze.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said the latest development in Indonesia's comments on Singapore's efforts against forest fire culprits was a "good outcome", in a Facebook post on Friday (Jun 17).

The Environment Minister reiterated in his post that Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) complied with international law.

Minister Masagos welcomed Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir’s statement on Thursday that Indonesia was serious about tackling the forest fires and had a high commitment to doing so. He added that Singapore is looking forward to receiving information from Indonesia on the companies suspected of the illegal burning that resulted in last year's haze.

"We also look forward to continuing to work together to eradicate the transboundary haze pollution that has plagued the region for decades," Mr Masagos said.

Mr Arrmanatha said in his statement on Thursday that Indonesia had been wrongly perceived as opposing Singapore's actions against Indonesians suspected of causing forest fires, and was only concerned about ensuring those actions were conducted in line with international regulations.

This was after Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar reportedly told the media on Monday that Singapore could not step further to enter Indonesia’s legal domain on the issue of forest fires because the two countries do not have an agreement in the matter. She was also quoted as saying that Singapore's actions with the THPA showed that it did not respect Indonesia's sovereignty.

In response, Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said that the THPA is meant to deter and prosecute those responsible for transboundary haze pollution in Singapore, and is not directed at any individual or company based on nationality.

Singapore passed the THPA in 2014 to take action against companies that start fires or let their concessions burn. Last month, the National Environment Agency obtained a court warrant after the director of one of the Indonesian firms linked to illegal forest fires failed to turn up for an interview when he was in Singapore.

- CNA/mz

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Next phase of one-north park to open on Saturday

With the opening of the latest phase, more than half of the park will have been completed, says the National Parks Board.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The next phase of one-north park will open to the public on Saturday (Jun 18), the National Parks Board (NParks) said on Friday.

Comprising about 3.7 hectares in size, this phase includes four land parcels in the park – Rochester West, Rochester East, Fusionopolis North and Fusionopolis South.

About 5.4 hectares of the 16-hectare park have already been completed. With the opening of the latest phase, more than half of the park will have been completed, NParks said.

The park consists of 11 land parcels spanning across the entire length of the one-north district. When fully completed, it will serve as an integrated green link connecting key developments such as Biopolis, Fusionopolis, Mediapolis and the one-north MRT station.

To maintain the rustic character of the area, several environmental initiatives were also adopted during the development. For example, no street lights were installed at the Fusionopolis South section so as to minimise impact on birds that nest in the area, NParks said.

A boardwalk was also incorporated to allow people to observe the park's wildlife.

Future land parcels at the park will be developed on a “just-in-time” basis, so that as developments come on stream, the adjacent park parcels will be completed at around the same time, NParks said. These developments will be progressively carried out over the next five years.

- CNA/cy

Latest phase of one-north Park to open today
Today Online 18 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Another phase of a park that will eventually span the length of the one-north development has been completed, with features such as a butterfly garden and a forest boardwalk for office workers, students and residents of the area to explore.

The latest phase of one-north Park, comprising four spaces in the Rochester and Fusionopolis areas, officially opens on Saturday (June 18), and spans about 3.7ha in total.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said in a press release on Friday that several environmental initiatives were adopted during development to maintain the rustic character of the area.

For example, no street lights were installed in one-north Park: Fusionopolis South — the name of one of the new park areas — to “minimise impact” on birds that nest in the area.

“A boardwalk has also been sensitively incorporated to allow park users to better observe and enjoy the surrounding biodiversity,” NParks said.

Efforts were also made to retain existing vegetation — including remnant secondary forests — in this park area, with some enhancements to allow these areas to become a nature sanctuary that can support existing bird populations.

For example, the Weeping Fig tree’s figs are attractive to a large number of insects and birds such as the Pink-necked Green Pigeon.

Meanwhile, the butterfly garden in the Fusionopolis North park area features butterfly host and nectar plants, which provide food for butterflies, caterpillars and other insects. “A winding path through the garden provides a place for observation of the biodiversity,” said NParks.

The rain garden in this park area was planted with wildflowers and grasses that help to filter storm water runoff within the park, and also creates a habitat for butterflies, dragonflies, birds and other aquatic wildlife.

The other two park areas — Rochester West and Rochester East — have gathering spaces for park users.

A large Ficus tree in the Rochester East park area was retained, and overlooks the entrance to the space.

With the opening of these four new areas, more than half of the planned 16ha one-north Park is complete. Areas opened earlier are one parcel in the Biopolis area, and one in Mediapolis.

The entire park is part of JTC Corporation’s master plan for one-north. When completed, it will serve as a green link connecting developments such as Biopolis, Fusionopolis, Mediapolis and the one-north MRT station.

NParks said future land parcels at the park will be developed on a “just-in-time” basis and completed as developments come on stream. “These developments will be progressively carried out over the next five years,” it added.

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A*STAR develops material that can clean oil spills more effectively

Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have developed a "supergelator" that it claims can clean up oil spills efficiently and rapidly and prevent secondary pollution.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*STAR) Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have developed a "supergelator" that can tackle oil spills.

IBN said current techniques of cleaning up oil spills - such as dispersants or burning - are not very efficient, and may cause further pollution or damage to the environment. These methods can result in the incomplete removal of the oil, allowing oil molecules to be spread over a larger area.

In a media release on Friday (Jun 17), IBN said that the supergelator can clean up oil spills efficiently and rapidly and prevent secondary pollution. It is made out of highly soluble small organic molecules which assemble into nanofibres, which then form a 3D net that trap oil molecules.

The supergelator can then be easily removed from the surface of the water.

“The most interesting and useful characteristic of our molecules is their ability to stack themselves on top of each other. These stacked columns allow our researchers to create and test different molecular constructions, while finding the best structure that will yield the desired properties,” said IBN Team Leader and Principal Research Scientist Dr Zeng Huaqiang.

IBN said the supergelator was found to be effective to solidify various types of crude oil in seawater, and takes minutes to solidify for easy removal. It was also found to be not toxic to human cells as well as zebrafish embryos and larvae.

"The researchers believe that these qualities would make the supergelators suitable for use in large oil spill areas," IBN said.

IBN is now looking for industrial partners to further develop its technology for commercial use.

“Marine oil spills have a disastrous impact on the environment and marine life, and result in an enormous economic burden on society. Our rapid-acting supergelators offer an effective cleanup solution that can help to contain the severe environmental damage and impact of such incidents in the future,” said IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y Ying.

The research was published in scientific journal Chemistry of Materials in May.

- CNA/av

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Indonesia: Team needed to monitor whales in E. Java waters

Wahyoe Boediwardhana The Jakarta Post 17 Jun 16;

Calls are mounting for the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry to cooperate with local authorities in East Java and set up a special team to monitor the movement of whales entering East Java waters.

The team would be tasked with monitoring the sea mammals and keeping them out of shallow waters as they pass Java during their annual migration from Australian waters to eastern Indonesian waters.

The calls were made by ProFauna founder Rosek Nursahid following the stranding of 32 pilot whales in the village of Randupitu in Probolinggo regency, some 106 kilometers east of Surabaya, since Wednesday afternoon.

“It [stranding of whales] happens frequently. Experts are still studying the phenomenon. One plausible reason is that these whales were pursuing food sources, which are found in abundance in shallow waters. They were then swept ashore by the current and failed to return to the deep water,” Rosek said on Thursday.

The special team should monitor and drive the pod of whales back to deep waters, he said, adding that the animals could easily die if they did not find their way back to deep waters. The migration of pilot whales from Australia to eastern Indonesia occurs between April and August.

Pilot whales and dolphins from Australia pass through waters of Probolinggo and Situbondo every year on their way to the warmer waters around Bali, Lombok and eastern Indonesia.

The head of the East Java office of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), Ayu Dewi Utari, told The Jakarta Post that, as of 1 p.m. on Thursday, nine of the 32 whales had died from a lack of oxygen.

“Seven of the whales were found dead at the location [Randupitu], while the other two were discovered near Bentar Beach, some 5 kilometers to the west from the initial site where the whales were found stranded,” Ayu said.

Six of the 32 whales were calves measuring around 4 meters in length. The rest were adult whales, which are around 6 meters long. “Currently, BKSDA officials, with the help of volunteers and local fishermen, are chasing the whales away to deep waters. We have been waiting for high tide in order to push them away. Last night’s high tide was not helpful enough, because darkness and extreme waves prevented us from carrying out the task,” said Ayu.

A team of veterinarians from Airlangga University has arrived at the site to oversee the evacuation process and conduct an autopsy on two of the dead whales to establish the cause of their death.

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Indonesia: Animals Indonesia deplores light sentence for tiger skin sellers

Antara 18 Jun 16;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Animals Indonesia, a social community institution for animal conservation, has deplored the fact that the district court of Palembang meted out a light sentence to a man involved in tiger skin trade recently.

In a press release received by Antara here on Friday, Suwarno, the chief of the institution, said the trader, Suharno alias Reno, was only sentenced to six months in jail while he could have been given a maximum sentence of five years and fined Rp100 million, based on Law Number 5 of 1990 on Ecosystem and Conservation of Living Natural Resources.

"This is very disappointing because the defendant was clearly proven as indulging in trading skin and bones of Sumatran tiger, a species falling under protected animal category," he rued.

Suharno was caught by a South Sumatra police team with the help of COP, Animal and ZSL non-governmental organizations in Lubuklinggau city, South Sumatra, on February 25, 2016.

When he was caught, he was in possession of a piece of tiger skin measuring 120 cm long, kept in a plastic bag containing preservatives, and tiger bones weighing two kilograms.

The trader claimed he received these from a tiger hunter in Jambi.

"Sumatran tiger is one of the tiger species left in Indonesia after Balinese and Javanese tiger species were declared extinct. The existence of Sumatran tiger was under threat because its habitat had shrunk and it was being hunted for trading," he explained.

An intact skin of a tiger is sold between Rp50 million and Rp100 million, depending on its size and condition, he added.

COP Anti-Wildlife Crime coordinator Daniek Hendarto said the development was very disconcerting as Sumatran tiger faces imminent extinction.

"Due to its high price, there is always demand," he added.

He underlined that it was time for the government to show through its working units in the region that it has a strong motivation to enforce the law against wild animals trade.(*)

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Vietnam at risk of massive coral die-off due to El Nino: report

Thanh Nien News 17 Jun 16;

Warm water caused by El Nino is being suspected of bleaching around one quarter of coral reefs off Vietnam's famous resort island Con Dao, making them vulnerable to a massive die-off, local media reported on Friday.

The bleaching started in March and has affected around 400-500 hectares of coral reefs, the Vietnam News Agency said, citing the management board of Con Dao National Park.

The report did not mention if human activities were also to blame.

Con Dao, about 97 sea miles off the popular beach town of Vung Tau, is one of the favorite diving destinations in Vietnam.

Corals are often bleached when warm water causes them to expel the algae living in their tissues. While they can still survive the bleaching, they will die when the algae loss prolongs.

At least eight coral reefs areas for have been hit by bleaching such as those around the Con Son Bay and Tai Island, according to the management board.

Con Dao reported coral bleaching in 1998 and 2010, according to the news report.

El Nino causes coral bleaching in Con Dao islands
El Nino-triggered coral bleaching has spread to approximately one fourth of coral reef areas across waters around Con Dao Islands off the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau since March.
Vietnam net news 19 Jun 16;

According to the management board of the Con Dao national park, eight major areas – including Con Son bay, Dam Tre and Hon Tre Lon seas – are suffering, and bleaching gathered the highest speed in May.

The weather phenomenon causing the water surface to become unusually warmer has so far affected up to 500 hectares of local coral reefs, with an average of between 30 and 40 percent of corals in hit areas bleached.

Bleaching makes corals stunted and particularly prone to diseases and reproduction vulnerability; in severe cases, it kills them.

Study from the board’s maritime conservation department showed that most of Porites, round-shaped Fungiidae and Poritidae corals in these locations were completely bleached and at high risk of dying.

Pocillopora corals, meanwhile, mostly saw bleaching on their branches, with Algae colours still spotted on their core bodies.

However, the Pocillopora corals would die eventually, if the heated condition persists.

In 1998 and 2010, bleaching also took place in Con Dao, with some coral areas unable to recover naturally.

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Shattered records show climate change is an emergency today, scientists warn

Unprecedented temperature levels mean more heatwaves, flooding, wildfires and hurricanes as experts say global warming is here and affecting us now
Damian Carrington The Guardian 17 Jun 16;

May was the 13th month in a row to break temperature records according to figures published this week that are the latest in 2016’s string of incredible climate records which scientists have described as a bombshell and an emergency.

The series of smashed global records, particularly the extraordinary heat in February and March, has provoked a stunned reaction from climate scientists, who are warning that climate change has reached unprecedented levels and is no longer only a threat for the future.

Alongside the soaring temperatures, other records have tumbled around the world, from vanishing Arctic sea ice to a searing drought in India and the vast bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. The UK has experienced record flooding that has devastated communities across the country and scientists predict that the flash floods seen by parts of the country in recent days will increase in future.

“The impacts of human-caused climate change are no longer subtle – they are playing out, in real time, before us,” says Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University in the US. “They serve as a constant reminder now of how critical it is that we engage in the actions necessary to avert ever-more dangerous and potentially irreversible warming of the planet.”

It was just last December when the world’s nations sealed a deal in Paris to defeat global warming but Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, says: “These [records] are very worrying signs and I think it shows we are on a crash course with the Paris targets unless we change course very, very fast. I hope people realise that global warming is not something down the road, but it is here now and it affecting us now.”

“What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate,” says Rahmstorf. “It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.”

But the spikes in global surface temperatures in recent months have been anything but stable. They did not just break the records, they obliterated them. “The numbers are completely unprecedented,” says Adam Scaife, at the Met Office in the UK. “They really stick out like a sore thumb.”

The scorching temperatures mean 2016 is all but certain to be the hottest year ever recorded, beating the previous hottest year in 2015, which itself beat 2014. This run of three record years is also unprecedented and, without climate change, would be a one in a million chance. Scaife says: “Including this year so far, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have been since 2000 – it’s a shocking statistic.”

Thermometer records go back to 1880, but ice cores, tree rings and corals show global warming driven by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels and forests has left the planet at its hottest for at least 5,000 years. “If we are not above this [temperature] already, we will be in 10 or 20 years’ time and then you have to go back 120,000 years to find higher temperatures than present,” says Rahmstorf.

Another shattered record is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is on course to rise by a record amount this year, leaving the symbolic landmark of 400 parts per million to history. “We know from Antarctic ice cores that go back almost a million years that CO2 was never even remotely as high as this,” says Rahmstorf, and the rate at which humanity is emitting CO2 is the fastest for 66m years.

Fast-rising CO2 levels are almost entirely the reason for the record-busting year. But the natural climate phenomenon called El Niño has played a part. Cyclical changes in ocean temperatures over decades lead to El Niños during which stored heat is released from the oceans, impacting temperatures and weather around the globe.

Scientists agree about a fifth of the temperature rise seen in recent months is due to El Niño. However Scaife says: “I suspect some of the months would have still been records, even without the El Niño”. He points out that 1998 saw an ever bigger El Niño, resulting in a record hot year, but that this has now been far surpassed: “It is not even in the running anymore, falling way down the list.”

El Niño is now waning into to its opposite phase, called La Niña. But that does not allay the scientists’ climate concerns: “The La Niña will not be as cool as the El Niño was warm. We are very, very sure of that,” says Scaife. “It probably means that 2017 will not be a record year, but compared to other La Niña years, it is likely to be much warmer than normal.”

Furthermore, there may be more to the record-breaking series than meets the eye. “There is something more going on than the usual global warming trend and El Niño, because in the past El Niño has led to single years breaking records, but it has not caused several years in a row to break records,” says Rahmstorf.

“There is some unexplained part to this and it is concerning, because we don’t understand it and it is hotter than expected,” he says. “I hope the data coming in the next six months or so will bring us some important clues.”

The heat so far has already had major impacts, including a record temperature of 51C in India amid a serious drought and a record warm autumn in Australia, as well as many in the US. “It is in my view highly unlikely that we would be seeing record drought, like we’re seeing in California, record flooding in Texas, unprecedented wildfires in western North America, and the strongest recorded hurricanes in both the northern and southern hemisphere were it not for the impact of human-caused global warming,” says Mann.

Killer heatwaves are increasing too, which is the clearest impact of global warming, says Rahmstorf: “Our analysis of monthly heat records around the globe shows they now occur five times as often. It is those monthly heat records that are representative of heatwaves that last for weeks on end and they are ones that take the highest death toll.”

The UK has been affected too, with December breaking temperature and rainfall records.

“Climate change means more intense rainfall and therefore an increased risk of flooding,” says Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

“The government, which got caught out by two record wet winters in the last three, has suddenly woken up to the fact, which is why they have set up the National Flood Resilience Review. It is now something we are all going to have to come to terms with in the UK.”

Ward says seeing the records broken may mean more people make the connection between action on to cut emissions, such as support for green energy, and the impacts of global warming. He says the global climate deal agreed in December shows every government already knows this is a problem that needs urgent action, but that the high temperatures already occurring will increase the emphasis on adapting to extreme weather events in addition to cutting carbon emissions.

“The impacts we’re beginning to see are just the start and we know we are going to be facing a worsening situation for at least the next couple of decades even if we do cut emissions,” Ward says.

“What’s worrying [about the record-breaking 2016] is that we are in unprecedented territory and we don’t really know what the consequences will be,” he says. “There are likely to be plenty of surprises, some of which will be nasty.”

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