Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jun 16

The Southern Expedition: What we found
Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Job Opportunity: Scientific Manager
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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MOH monitoring rising number of salmonella cases

Lim Jia Qi Channel NewsAsia 29 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: When Mdm Chia started having abdominal pain, she thought it was nothing serious. She took some painkillers, thinking that the pain would go away. But instead, she vomited twice and had diarrhoea up to 10 times within a day.

“I have no idea what I ate because Singapore is very clean and I just ate normal food like those at the food court and I didn’t go overseas at all,” said Mdm Chia.

Mdm Chia was admitted to hospital the next day and was diagnosed with salmonella gastroenteritis on May 8. The condition is caused by a food-borne pathogen that can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever.

Mdm Chia is one of the 1,042 people infected by salmonella so far this year. According to data published by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on its website, the number of people infected has increased over the years. Since 2012, the cases have risen by about 30 per cent to about 2,000 in 2015. The trend looks set to continue, with the number of cases so far in 2016 exceeding the 779 that were reported between January and Jun 20 last year.

In a statement to Channel NewsAsia, an MOH spokesperson said human salmonellosis is generally associated with the consumption of contaminated poultry, meat and eggs.

The spokesperson added that the ministry is working closely with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the National Environment Agency to monitor the situation and better understand the reasons behind the increase.


Dr Desmond Wai, a gastroenterologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said the bacteria is not airborne but noted that it could be spread via faecal to oral transmission.

“Patients who have salmonella, there will be bacteria in their stools. So if they don’t wash their hands properly; they touch other objects; they prepare food for other people, they can potentially spread the infection to other people,” said Dr Wai.

Dr Wai added that salmonella could be present in raw poultry and eggs and can be spread through person-to-person contact.

“Salmonella can especially go to the ovaries of chickens. So inside the egg yolk, it could have the bacteria. If people just eat the half-boiled egg or raw egg, they can actually get the infection,” said Dr Wai.

“If you are washing a chicken that contains salmonella, our hands or the water splashed onto the sink may have the bacteria,” he explained.

In Singapore, the AVA conducts inspections regularly to ensure imported food is free from contamination. The products also have to comply with local food safety standards and requirements, an AVA spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia.

"Our sampling tests cover a wide range of chemical contaminants and microbiological hazards such as antibiotics and hormones as well as microbial hazards, for example, Salmonella," said the spokesperson, adding that contaminated products will not be allowed for sale and it will be destroyed.

Even as the Government is taking precautionary measures to prevent contaminated food imports from reaching Singapore shores, individuals should still do their part through good hygiene habits, such as washing their hands with soap and water before meals, said Dr Wai.

For Mdm Chia, who is still recovering from a salmonella infection, she has started paying more attention to her hygiene practices.

“Besides washing my hands with soap regularly, I'm also using surgical hand wash before meals,” she said.

- CNA/jq

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Dengue cases rise for second straight week

Today 29 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — The number of new dengue cases in Singapore has risen again, with 215 cases reported in the week ending June 25, according to the latest figures on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) dengue website.

Nearly 9,000 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year.

The authorities had previously said that the number could exceed 30,000 — much higher than the record 22,170 cases in 2013.

Five people have died of the mosquito-borne disease so far this year — the same number as the whole of 2014.

There are now 36 active dengue clusters in Singapore — up from 32 the previous week — including seven that are classified as high-risk.

The biggest cluster is in the area around Geylang and Guillemard Road, where 99 cases have been reported, including one in the past fortnight.

Noting that Singapore is now in the traditional peak season for dengue, the NEA called on the public to continue to be vigilant.

“The majority of mosquito breeding habitats are still being found in homes, such as in domestic containers, flower pot plates and trays,” the NEA said on its website.

Since March 14, the NEA has extended its enforcement regime to all residences found to be breeding mosquitoes — whether they are within or outside dengue clusters — to ensure that all homeowners take immediate steps to remove and prevent mosquito breeding in their premises.

It also encourages the public to help stop the dengue transmission cycle by doing the five-step Mozzie Wipeout on alternate days, such as changing water in vases and bowls and removing water from flower pot plates.

Dengue cases in first half of 2016 twice the number in same period last year: NEA
Channel NewsAsia 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: As of last Saturday (Jun 25), 8,900 dengue cases have been reported in the Republic this year, more than twice last year's figure of 4,100 for the same period, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a press release on Thursday.

As Singapore reaches its traditional peak dengue season, the agency added that it is anticipating an upward trend in the number of dengue cases in the coming months.

Last week, 215 dengue cases were reported, 22 more than in the previous week. Five people have died of the disease this year so far – a 47-year-old man who lived in Marsiling Rise, a 67-year-old man who lived in Toa Payoh, a 63-year-old woman who lived in Bedok, a 73-year-old woman who lived in Hougang, and in the latest case, a 79-year-old man who lived in Kaki Bukit.

NEA urged the public to "stay vigilant and continue to work as a community to prevent dengue cases from rising", noting an increase in the Aedes mosquito population and the number of breeding habitats uncovered in the past two months.

"NEA’s Gravitrap data has shown a steady increase in the Aedes aegypti mosquito population in our community in the last two months. Since April, we have observed 50 per cent more Aedes aegypti mosquitoes caught in Gravitraps that have been deployed islandwide," the agency said in its news release.

"The number of Aedes aegypti breeding found in homes during our regular inspections has also seen a 50 per cent increase in the last two months. These indicate an abundance of the mosquito vector in our community."

As a "large proportion" of the population is susceptible to contracting dengue due to the lack of immunity, an increase in the Aedes mosquito population could lead to a surge in dengue cases unless measures are taken to suppress the Aedes mosquito population, NEA said, adding that all stakeholders need to ensure that their premises are free of stagnant water, which could lead to mosquitoes breeding, and step up efforts to stem the transmission of the disease.

The agency said that as of May 31, it had conducted over 544,000 inspections islandwide and destroyed more than 6,800 mosquito breeding sites. Most of the breeding sites were found in homes, especially in domestic containers and flower pots.

"NEA is closely monitoring areas with active transmission of dengue and the transmission patterns. Together with the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force, as well as all town councils, we have been continuing efforts to rid public areas and housing estates of potential mosquito breeding habitats," it said.

The statutory board is focusing its inspections on areas with a higher potential for dengue transmissions, such as construction sites, and detected mosquito breeding in nine per cent of its 2,900 inspections conducted at construction sites, it said. It has issued more than 290 construction site-related notices to attend court and more than 30 stop work orders, it revealed in the press release.

NEA advised residents living in dengue cluster areas to continue with the use of repellent to lower the risk of contracting dengue, and practice the five-step "Do the Mozzie Wipeout" to prevent mosquito breeding.

Dengue patients should continue to protect themselves from mosquito bites by applying repellent regularly, and those showing symptoms suggestive of dengue should see their doctors early to be diagnosed," the agency said, adding that those planning to go overseas for vacation should mosquito-proof their homes before they travel.

- CNA/mz

Number of dengue cases rises for third week in a row
Channel NewsAsia 5 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of new dengue cases in Singapore has risen for the third week in a row, with 235 cases in the week ending Jul 2 compared to 215 the previous week, according to latest figures on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) dengue website.

Another 29 cases were reported between Jul 3 and 3pm on Jul 4.

In total, 9,174 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year. At least five people have died of the disease so far – a 47-year-old man who lived in Marsiling Rise, a 67-year-old man who lived in Toa Payoh, a 63-year-old woman who lived in Bedok, a 73-year-old woman who lived in Hougang, and in the latest case, a 79-year-old man who lived in Kaki Bukit.

There are now 36 active dengue clusters in Singapore – same as the previous week – including seven classified as high-risk. The biggest cluster is in the area around Admiralty Drive and Sembawang Drive, where 42 cases have been reported, including two in the past fortnight.

In an advisory on its dengue website, NEA called for vigilance from homeowners to prevent mosquito breeding amid the traditional peak season for dengue in Singapore.

Last week, the authority said the number of cases in the first half of the year was more than twice the same period the previous year, adding that it is anticipating an upward trend in the number of dengue cases in the coming months.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

Singapore also reported its first case of the Zika virus in May. The patient, a 48-year-old male Permanent Resident who lives in Bukit Timah’s Watten Estate, had travelled to Sao Paulo in Brazil and developed a fever and rash three days after his return.

Although the patient was discharged from hospital after making a full recovery, MOH and NEA have said there is still a possibility of secondary infection.

- CNA/mz

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Singapore supply more water to Johor

The Star 30 Jun 16;

JOHOR BARU: Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB)has begun supplying an additional six million gallons per day (mgd) of potable water to Johor since early this month in response to the request for assistance from Johor Water Regulatory Body (Bakaj).

In a statement by PUB, it said that Bakaj had requested for additional drinking water supply for a month in view of the current dry weather, which has severely affected water levels in Johor’s Sungai Layang dam.

“PUB has agreed to help, and has been injecting the additional supply of potable water from the Johor River Waterworks,” the statement said.

PUB added that the arrangement was only temporary and subject to regular review, assuring that it will not affect the water supply in Singapore in the short-term.

Over the years, PUB has supplied about 16 million gallons of potable water per day to Johor.

From Aug 14, last year to Jan 8, this year, PUB supplied an additional five to six mgd of potable water to Johor under an arrangement similar to the present one.

This latest request will see Singapore temporarily supplying 22 mgd of potable water to meet Johor’s needs.

PUB said the hot spell has also affected water levels in Linggiu Reservoir, which dipped from 40% to 33% in April this year - an all-time low.

“Linggiu Reservoir, which is operated by PUB, improves the yield of water from the Johor River from which Johor and Singapore draw water,” PUB said, assuring the situation was being monitored closely.

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, PUB is entitled to draw up to 250mgd of raw water from the Johor River daily and in return, Johor is entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2% (or 5mgd) of the raw water supplied to Singapore.

PUB also reassured that it remains committed to working with Bakaj and relevant agencies to ensure a reliable supply of water for both Singapore and Johor.

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Indonesia plans peat monitoring system to curb choking haze

Channel NewsAsia 29 Jun 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia is planning a hi-tech monitoring network to protect peatland at the centre of last year's raging fires that cloaked Southeast Asia in toxic haze, a senior official said on Tuesday (Jun 28).

The fires sent smog billowing across the region in September and October, disrupting the daily lives of tens of millions and fueling anger at Indonesia for its failure to tackle the crisis.

The blazes and resulting haze, caused by illegal slash-and-burn land clearance, are an annual occurrence. But the fires in 2015 were the worst for years as an El Nino weather phenomenon created tinder-dry conditions.

The hardest-hit areas were peatland on Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo, which become highly flammable after being cleared of vegetation and drained to make way for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

Jakarta in January set up an agency to oversee the restoration of 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) - roughly the size of Rwanda - of peat in the next five years to try to prevent future fires.

It is part of a broader push to stop a repeat of the devastating blazes. President Joko Widodo has introduced other measures to protect peatland and banned the use of new land for palm oil operations.

Restoration of peat involves damming enormous canals built to drain the peat, replanting vegetation and replacing lost water.

Monitoring devices will be installed in the peat to ensure restoration is being properly carried out, said Peatland Restoration Agency head Nazir Foead.

"We are going to install monitoring tools, sensors, that will send us the data real time through the Internet so companies are fully aware that their restoration action is being monitored," he told AFP in an interview on Tuesday.

Roughly half the peat earmarked for restoration is on companies' concession land and they are responsible for carrying out the improvement work, with guidance from the agency.

The agency will restore peat on government- and community-owned land.

The monitoring stations will include an underground sensor and rain gauge to check if peat is retaining water after rainfall, allowing authorities to work out whether drainage canals have been properly closed off.

The sensors will send regular updates to a control centre near Jakarta which is linked to government departments, Foead said. A test monitoring device was installed on Sumatra last month and the agency hopes eventually to have hundreds across the country.

Foead conceded that only "very small steps" had been taken so far in restoring peat, but was optimistic the body would be able to fulfil its task. He said he did not believe 2016 would see a repeat of last year's fires as authorities were better prepared.

- AFP/nc

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Amazon fires: Humans make rainforest more flammable

Victoria Gill BBC News 30 Jun 16;

Human disturbances are making the Amazon rainforest more flammable, according to researchers.

This is one of the conclusions of a two-year study of the Brazilian Amazon, which revealed that even protected forest is degraded by human activity.

This activity includes selective logging and forest fragmentation, which increase the likelihood of wildfires.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.

"Rainforests don't normally burn," said lead researcher Prof Jos Barlow, from the Lancaster Environment Centre. "But human activities are making them much more flammable."

While the Brazilian Amazon is protected from large-scale deforestation, this new study suggests that more effort is needed to safeguard what the scientists called the "hyper-diversity of tropical forests".

This team set out to measure the effects that humans have on the rainforest - no easy feat in a dense landscape of 5.5 million sq km.

They selected 400 plots, on a gradient of forest cover - ranging from pristine to deforested areas.

It took two years to gather data from these sites across the Eastern Amazon - painstakingly measuring population densities of trees, birds and insects.

Crucially, this study examined areas of forest that are protected by the Forest Code - the central policy designed to control deforestation, and requiring landowners in the Amazon to maintain up to 80% forest cover.

"If you can imagine a landscape with 80% forest cover, I think most environmentalists would say that's a very good scenario and you've maintained most of your core habitat there," Prof Barlow told the BBC.

"But what we found was those landscapes only really have 50% of their potential value, because of disturbance in the remaining forest."

Disturbance, he explained, could include selective logging, hunting - "anything that humans do to the forests".

Selective logging, for example, can leave the forest fragmented or punch holes in the canopy, drying out the vegetation below. This, combined with the effects of climate change, is leaving the Amazon much more likely to catch fire.

Another member of the team, Dr Alexander Lees from Cornell University, said that many bird species unique to the Amazon were suffering the most from these effects. These endemic species, he said, "cannot survive in disturbed forests".

"We need to keep focusing on reducing deforestation," said Prof Barlow, "but we need to think about forest disturbance - how we can monitor it, how we can reduce it, and how we can maintain pristine forest in large blocks as well."

"Immediate action is required to combat forest disturbance in tropical nations," said Silvio Ferraz from the University of Sao Paulo, who was also involved in the study. "This is particularly important in Brazil, which holds up to 40% of the world's remaining tropical forests".

Prof Barlow added: "If we're interested in conserving the life that lives with us on this planet today, then we need to conserve these systems."

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Crucial peatlands carbon-sink vulnerable to rising sea levels

University of Exeter Science Daily 29 Jun 16;

Summary: Rising sea-levels linked to global warming could pose a significant threat to the effectiveness of the world's peatland areas as carbon sinks, a new study has shown.

Rising sea-levels linked to global warming could pose a significant threat to the effectiveness of the world's peatland areas as carbon sinks, a new study has shown.

The pioneering new study, carried out by Geographers at the University of Exeter, examined the impact that salt found in sea water has on how successfully peatland ecosystems accumulate carbon from the atmosphere.

The researchers studied an area of blanket bog -- a peat bog that forms in cool regions susceptible to high rainfall -- at Kentra Moss, in Northwest Scotland.

They discovered that the rate at which the peatland area accumulated carbon was significantly impacted as the concentration of salt rose.

The results indicate that rising sea levels, linked to predicted climate change, could pose a serious threat to the future security of the peatlands because they would inundate areas and deposit more salt, further inland.

The findings feature in scientific journal, Scientific Reports.

Dr Angela Gallego-Sala, co-author of the paper and a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography at Exeter said: "Peatland areas play a crucial role in taking carbon from our atmosphere and storing it."

"We know that rising sea levels through global warming can have catastrophic effects on many areas across the globe, and this study shows just how vulnerable some peatland areas are to the same phenomenon.

"The effects of global warming are already being observed, but the longer we wait to act, the quicker changes to our environment, which would have a devastating impact on many regions around the world, will take place."

Rain-fed peatlands are recognised as being a globally important environmental resource because they absorb and store carbon.

Their unique plant communities and their inherent wetness are known to help control their ability to act as carbon stores. However, this new research shows that there is a threshold concentration of salt above which, the plant communities are less successful at absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.

Blanket bogs, such as the one used for the study, are distinctive peatland ecosystems occupying specific coastal, high-latitude areas, making them vulnerable to sea-level change.

The study, which arose from an undergraduate research project carried out by student Alex Whittle and Dr Gallego-Sala, looked at the age and density of carbon that was stored in core samples taken in three specific areas, starting next to the coastline and moving progressively inland.

The samples showed that as salt levels increased, the vegetation that colonise the bogs altered significantly, resulting in a sharp decline in carbon storage. The research suggests that if sea levels rise and blanket bogs receive more salt-water, so the rate at which carbon can be stored will sharply decline.

Alex Whittle, author of the paper and now a research student in the Department of Geography said: "This study highlights the global scale and geographical distribution of peatlands potentially vulnerable to sea-level change. We hope our work will increase awareness of this risk and thereby stimulate future research on this topic."

Dr Gallego-Sala added: "What started out as an undergraduate project has led to a ground-breaking new study, and produced some startling results. Peatland areas are vital for our ecosystems and hopefully this study will help give us a greater understanding of the threats that they are facing in the future."

Vulnerability of the peatland carbon sink to sea-level rise, by Alex Whittle and Angela Gallego-Sala, is published in Scientific Reports.

Journal Reference:

Alex Whittle, Angela V. Gallego-Sala. Vulnerability of the peatland carbon sink to sea-level rise. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 28758 DOI: 10.1038/srep28758

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