Best of our wild blogs: 9 Jul 16

Mass coral bleaching at St John's Island
wild shores of singapore

Short Night Walk At Punggol (08 Jul 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Read more!

Coastal Adventure Corridor to have wider tracks, self-help stations for cyclists

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 9 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — The Coastal Adventure Corridor, which is the first section of a 150km continuous park connector, will feature wider tracks than those found in most park connectors. It will stretch from Rower’s Bay at Lower Seletar Reservoir Park through to Gardens by the Bay, winding through the coasts of Punggol, Pasir Ris, Changi and East Coast Park.

Works on this 60km corridor are set to start by the end of this year, with a tender to be called soon.

This will be the first of three corridors to be developed along the Round Island Route, and it will have a new cycling bridge linking the eastern and western ends of the Sengkang Riverside Park, a key activity node along the route.

Ms Kartini Omar, National Parks Board’s group director of parks development, said that cyclists need not dismount on the bridge, making for “more seamless connectivity”. More of such cycling bridges will go up along the route for the convenience of cyclists.

To enable otters to build their holts, or dens, a man-made island with wetland plantings will also be created as part of the design of the bridge at the Sengkang Riverside Park.

The continuous Round Island Route will have 6m-wide tracks, broader than the 4m-wide ones found in most existing park connectors that it will complement. When completed, it will link parks and park connectors as well as natural, cultural, historical and recreational sites.

Giving more details to the media on Thursday, Ms Kartini said that the Round Island Route would offer scenic views of the coastal areas, and have facilities such as shelters, toilets and rest-stops to add to the cycling experience. Users may unwind and take in the views at picturesque gathering spots.

Rower’s Bay, for instance, would be one such scenic rest-stop, affording views onto the Lower Seletar Reservoir and a choice spot for phototaking, Ms Kartini said.

There will also be amenities such as lookout points, information panels, bicycle parking racks and self-help bicycle-repair stations at various spots along the route.

Along the way, cyclists may see a variety of fauna, including the smooth-coated otter and the oriental pied hornbill.

The existing park connectors linked to the Round Island Route will include the Punggol, Paris Ris and Changi park connectors, as well as parks such as the Pasir Ris, Changi Beach and East Coast parks.

On Saturday morning (July 9), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled a plaque at the Sengkang Riverside Park to mark the start of works on the Round Island Route.

Development works for Round Island Route start end-2016
Channel NewsAsia 9 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE: Development works for the Round Island Route (RIR) - a continuous 150km park connector that goes around the island - are set to begin by the end of 2016, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), National Parks Board (NParks) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced on Saturday (Jul 9).

Works will start with the 60km-long Coastal Adventure Corridor, the first of three corridors for the RIR, which will connect 45km of existing park connectors. When completed, users will be able to cycle along the coasts of Punggol, Pasir Ris, Changi and East Coast Park to get to Gardens by the Bay from Lower Seletar Reservoir Park.

The corridor will serve Sengkang, Punggol, Pasir Ris and East Coast.


The RIR will be 6m wide in most areas - wider than the 4m current park connectors have - with the aim of providing more space for people to walk and cycle, the authorities said.

It will also have more cycling bridges so that cyclists need not dismount long their journey. Amenities in the form of shelters, toilets, lookout points, bicycle parking lots and self-help bike repair facilities will also be present along it.

For example, a cycling bridge is planned at Sengkang Riverside Park to connect the eastern and western end. As part of the design for the bridge, the park will also feature a man-made island with wetland plantings for otters to build their holts, LTA, NParks and URA said.


The Government is looking into providing more inter-town cycling routes to connect cyclists from their homes to the city, the authorities said. These connections will also provide cyclists a connection from the east to the west via the city centre.

Currently, plans are in place to construct Queenstown-City and Geylang-City routes.

"We have also identified some towns that are within a 30-minute cycling distance from the city such as Bishan, Hougang and Bukit Timah, and will be plugging gaps along the existing cycling routes to the city," they said.

And as part of the North-South Corridor (NSC), LTA will provide a cycling corridor that connects estates in the area directly to the city.

"In particular, towns in the north such as Sembawang, Yishun and Ang Mo Kio will be linked to the dedicated cycling paths integrated with the NSC to provide a direct route for people to cycle from their homes to the city for work or play," the authorities said.

- CNA/av

Phase 1 of 150km green trail will start at year end
Adrian Lim, The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Jul 16;

Construction work on the first 60km of a continuous 150km green trail that will go around Singapore will start at the end of the year.

The project aims to enhance connectivity and create new recreational spaces for cyclists and park goers.

In a ceremony held yesterday morning (July 9), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong planted a tree at the Sengkang Riverside Park, marking the start of phase one of the Round Island Route, an idea first conceptualised in 2011.

The 150km corridor, which is more than three times the length of Singapore, will be built in three stages.

While a completion date has yet to be announced, the route will link existing natural, cultural, historical and recreational sites.

The development is part of the larger Park Connector Network (PCN), which is now over 300km in length, and the new corridor is expected to benefit about 3.5 million residents along the route.

The National Parks Board (NParks) will be calling for a tender soon for the first phase of the route.

The 60km stretch, named the Coastal Adventure Corridor, will start at Rower's Bay at the Lower Seletar Reservoir Park and pass along the coasts of Punggol, Pasir Ris, Changi and East Coast Park, before reaching Gardens by the Bay East.

Ms Kartini Omar, group director of parks development at NParks, said efforts have been made so the Round Island Route has "seamless connectivity".

"For the Coastal Adventure Corridor... we will have a bridge across Sungei Punggol, which will link the two parcels of Sengkang Riverside Park, so park users (cyclists) don't actually have to dismount and (can) have a more seamless ride," she said, citing an example.

The Round Island Route's tracks will be mostly 6m wide - wider than the 4m paths of the park connectors.

It will also have shelters, toilets, lookout points, information kiosks, bicycle parking lots and self-help bike repair facilities.

Mr Han Jok Kwang, a cycling enthusiast and chairman of the Friends of PCN Community group, said the Round Island Route is about "connecting the dots forward", as it will link to other PCN loops at strategic locations, feeding its users into various residential towns.

"With the route, you can also go around the whole island safely, minimising interaction with vehicular traffic," he added.

As a 150km-long corridor, it also offers the potential for eco-tourism, giving visitors to Singapore a chance to explore the scenic coastline and other attractions along the way, he said.

Sengkang resident Eric Phua, 37, said the upcoming Coastal Adventure Corridor will give him an incentive to pick up cycling.

"I'll consider cycling to enjoy this new facility and it can also be another form of exercise for me," said the stock dealer.

The 150km corridor, which is more than three times the length of Singapore, will be built in three stages. While a completion date has yet to be announced, the route will link existing natural, cultural, historical and recreational sites.

Outdoor terrariums among new features in Ang Mo Kio, Singapore's first walking and cycling town
AsiaOne 10 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE - Do not be surprised when you spot butterflies fluttering near manicured plants encased in glass containers below MRT viaducts in the future.

These outdoor terrariums - the first in Singapore - together with butterfly-attracting plants and artworks, can already be found under the MRT viaduct along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8, which is part of the government plan to encourage Singaporeans to go 'car-lite'.

Ang Mo Kio will be transformed into Singapore's first walking and cycling town with infrastructure upgrades such as bicycle maintenance workspaces, dedicated cycling paths, parks along the routes, and seamless connectivity.

These dedicated cycling paths will be demarcated in red to distinguish them from footpaths, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in a joint press release with the National Parks Board (NParks) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

An additional 16km-long cycling path network, including a 1.6km-long walking and cycling corridor along the MRT viaduct between Yio Chu Kang MRT station and Ang Mo Kio MRT station, will be ready by 2019.

This network is part of the second phase to transform Ang Mo Kio, allowing all homes in the town to be within a 5-minute walk to the nearest cycling path.

The government agencies added that the network will also link up to the upcoming Mayflower and Lentor MRT stations on the Thomson-East Coast Line, as well as the cycling trunk route along North-South Corridor, which offers a direct cycling connection from Ang Mo Kio to the city.

Work to start on 150km Round Island Route

45km of existing park connectors will also be connected through the 60km Coastal Adventure Corridor.

The Coastal Adventure Corridor is the first of three corridors forming the 150km Round Island Route (RIR), boasting paths 6 metres wide, compared to current park connectors measuring 4 metres.

NParks will commence development works by the end of the year, and users will be able to cycle along the coasts of Punggol, Pasir Ris, Changi and East Coast Park to get to Gardens by the Bay from Lower Seletar Reservoir Park when completed.

Sengkang Riverside Park will also boast a man-made island with wetland plantings for otters to build their holts.

Queenstown-City and Geylang-City inter-town cycling routes

Future plans in the pipeline include inter-town cycling routes to connect cyclists directly from their homes to the city from the east to the west through the city centre.

Plans are already in place to construct the Queenstown-City and Geylang-City routes, allowing people to cycle from Geylang and Marine Parade to Queenstown and Bukit Merah.

"We have also identified some towns that are within a 30-minute cycling distance from the city such as Bishan, Hougang and Bukit Timah, and will be plugging gaps along the existing cycling routes to the city, to make the riding experience smoother and more seamless," the agencies said in the joint statement.

In the longer term, towns in the north such as Sembawang, Yishun and Ang Mo Kio will be linked to the dedicated cycling paths integrated with the North-South Corridor, providing a direct route for people to cycle from their homes to the city.

More Walking and Cycling Connections for a Car-lite Singapore
- Phase 1 of Ang Mo Kio walking and cycling town completed
- Development works for Round Island Route to begin by end of year
NParks Press Release 9 Jul 16;

It will be more convenient, comfortable and safer to walk, cycle, and use public transport, as the Government expands walking and cycling infrastructure for a Car-lite Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was at the launch ceremony this morning with Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo, and announced the completion of the first phase of works to transform Ang Mo Kio into Singapore’s first walking and cycling town. At the same time, the National Parks Board (NParks) will be starting development works for the 150km Park Connector Network Round Island Route to link up parks, park connectors and communities by the end of the year.

Ang Mo Kio Walking and Cycling Town

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has completed a 4km-long cycling path that loops around Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, 3, and 8. This will allow residents to walk and cycle to key amenities such as Ang Mo Kio MRT station, Ang Mo Kio Swimming Complex and AMK Hub.

Jointly designed and developed by LTA and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the Ang Mo Kio walking and cycling town incorporates a number of pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly features. Ang Mo Kio is the first town in Singapore to feature dedicated cycling paths that are red in colour so that they can be easily distinguished from footpaths. Bus stops are designated pedestrian priority zones, and the cycling paths go behind the bus stops, and have rumble strips to remind cyclists to slow down. Road crossings have new safety features and traffic calming measures to reduce vehicle speeds and alert motorists of pedestrians and cyclists. Easy-to-read map boards have also been placed along the paths to help residents navigate the cycling network. Many of these features were co-created with Ang Mo Kio residents, after a series of community exhibitions and focus group discussions were conducted.

Another innovation is the unused space under the MRT viaduct along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8, which has been transformed into a linear walking and cycling park, lined with shrubs and butterfly-attracting plants, and a large terrarium which showcases a microcosm of a rainforest environment, with plants that are adapted for growth under low light conditions. This is the first time a large terrarium is displayed outdoors, and there are plans to have two more terrariums along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 Linear Park. To further enhance the experience of the path users, a series of artworks has been installed on three MRT columns underneath the viaduct. There is also a bicycle self-service station for cyclists to carry out basic maintenance on their bikes. Users can also expect a play and fitness area, and community gardening plots when the linear park is fully completed in 2019.

Phase 2 of the Ang Mo Kio walking and cycling town will feature an additional 16km-long cycling path network, including a 1.8km-long walking and cycling corridor along the MRT viaduct between Yio Chu Kang MRT station and Ang Mo Kio MRT station. It will also feature an elevated walking and cycling path that will allow residents to walk and cycle more safely and conveniently to Ang Mo Kio MRT station. The network will also link up to the upcoming Mayflower and Lentor MRT stations on the Thomson-East Coast Line as well as the cycling trunk route along North-South Corridor, which offers a direct cycling connection from Ang Mo Kio to the city.

Works for Phase 2 will commence shortly and are expected to be completed in 2019. When completed, the 20km-long cycling path network will be the longest in any residential town and all homes in the Ang Mo Kio HDB town will be within a 5-minute walk to the nearest cycling path. LTA will continue to work with the community and other agencies to replicate these features in other towns, so that more Singaporeans will be encouraged to take up active modes of transport like walking and cycling.

Involving the Community

In land scarce Singapore, making our towns more liveable has to be a whole-of-community effort. To promote a culture of safe and gracious sharing of paths in Ang Mo Kio, LTA engaged the local grassroots to form volunteer groups under the Active Mobility Patrol scheme so that they can help to spread key messages on safe riding habits.

To add a touch of creativity to the environment, students from My First Skool created active mobility-themed art pieces, such as a bicycle sculpture from recycled materials. A former resident in Ang Mo Kio, Ms Zoe Lin, contributed a series of art murals along the walking and cycling route near Teck Ghee Community Centre, as part of URA’s ‘Our Favourite Place’ programme to enliven public spaces across Singapore.

NParks also worked with the Institute of Technical Education College Central on a student project to pilot an augmented reality mobile application to showcase two plants found in the terrarium. The students will also be leading regular tours along the linear park in the future.

Round Island Route

NParks will be starting development works for the “Coastal Adventure Corridor” of the 150km Round Island Route (RIR) by the end of the year. The 60km Coastal Adventure Corridor is the first of three corridors for the RIR, which will connect 45km of existing park connectors. It will be flanked by Rower’s Bay at Lower Seletar Reservoir Park and Gardens by the Bay East. This corridor will serve the highly populated towns of Sengkang, Punggol, Pasir Ris and East Coast. When completed, users will be able to cycle along the coasts of Punggol, Pasir Ris, Changi and East Coast Park to get to Gardens by the Bay from Lower Seletar Reservoir Park.

To provide more space for people to walk and cycle, the Round Island Route will have greater width in most areas (6 metres wide) compared to the current park connectors (4 metres wide). More cycling bridges will be built so that cyclists need not dismount. It will also have amenities such as shelters, toilets, lookout points, bicycle parking lots and self-help bike repair facilities. Nature lovers can look forward to special features such as a man-made island with wetland plantings for otters to build their holts at Sengkang Riverside Park.

Please refer to the Fact Sheet for more information on the new features in the Ang Mo Kio walking and cycling town as well as the RIR and Ang Mo Kio Linear Park.

Future Plans

Beyond these plans, the Government will also look at providing more inter-town cycling routes to connect cyclists directly from their homes to the city. These connections will also provide cyclists with a seamless connection from the east to the west via the city centre, allowing people to cycle from Geylang and Marine Parade to Queenstown and Bukit Merah. Currently, plans are in place to construct the Queenstown-City and Geylang-City routes. We have also identified some towns that are within a 30-minute cycling distance from the city such as Bishan, Hougang and Bukit Timah, and will be plugging gaps along the existing cycling routes to the city, to make the riding experience smoother and more seamless.

In the longer term, as part of the North-South Corridor (NSC), LTA will provide a cycling corridor that connects estates along the entire corridor directly to the city. In particular, towns in the north such as Sembawang, Yishun and Ang Mo Kio will be linked to the dedicated cycling paths integrated with the NSC to provide a direct route for people to cycle from their homes to the city for work or play.

Park Connector Network (PCN)
The PCN was first conceptualised in 1990 as an island-wide greenery network that connected parks, nature areas and open spaces. In 1991, the Garden City Action Committee approved the creation of the PCN with the aim of providing Singaporeans with greater leisure options. Today, it has evolved into a network of green corridors
that brings communities together and provides opportunities for more recreational options for different interest groups. Park connectors also play an important role in enhancing the biodiversity of our cities, by serving as green corridors.

In 2015, the National Parks Board celebrated 25 years of PCN by reaching the significant milestone of 300 km of park connectors. NParks aims to have 360 km of park connectors by 2020.

Round Island Route

The Round Island Route (RIR) is a continuous 150 km park connector that goes around Singapore. It was first conceptualised in 2011 following public consultations for our City in a Garden vision, where many suggestions were given by the public on a green corridor that goes around the island, linking parks and park connectors.

After a period of study, plans were announced in 2012 to develop a Round Island Route.

The Round Island Route will complement the existing PCN, connecting existing natural, cultural, historical and recreational sites and linking communities together. It will provide opportunities for recreational activities such as cycling, skating, jogging and hiking. These connections and activities will enhance our ‘City in a Garden’ experience for all residents.

Round Island Route users can:
* Experience enhanced connectivity between various recreational destinations;
* Discover and explore exciting new locations and activities;
* Admire different landscapes set amid lush greenery, at their own pace.

There will be three corridors for the Round Island Route. The first corridor, called the Coastal Adventure Corridor, will be the first section to be developed. Development is slated to begin in end 2016.

When fully completed, users will be able to cycle from Rower’s Bay at Lower Seletar Reservoir Park along the coast of Punggol, Pasir Ris, Changi and East Coast Park to Gardens by the Bay. Efforts will be made to make the route user friendly and enjoyable. For example, a cycling bridge is planned at Sengkang Riverside Park, a
key activity node of the RIR, to connect the eastern and western end, so that cyclists need not dismount as they cross the bridge. As part of the design for the bridge at Sengkang Riverside Park, a man-made island with wetland plantings will be created for otters to build their holts. The route will also be wider than normal park
connectors in most areas (6m instead of 4m), and have amenities such as shelters, toilets, lookout points, seating areas, information kiosks, bicycle parking lots and selfhelp bike repair facilities at various nodes.

Read more!

Don't blame the Govt; take ownership of choices: Ground-Up Initiative's Tay Lai Hock

Channel NewsAsia 9 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE: To some, Tay Lai Hock is a “hippie” who’s misleading the youth; to others, he is just one Singaporean who is promoting the philosophy of living in harmony with nature.

Tay is founder of the Ground-Up Initiative (GUI), a non-profit group that aims to reconnect city dwellers with the earth. The group’s 26,000sqm Kampung Kampus site in Khatib is designed as a low carbon footprint area featuring tropical sustainable architecture. Their idea is not only to enable people to be with nature, but also actively look after the space, get their hands dirty and in the process, learn how to take risks and be leaders – all while working as a team with a 21st century kampong spirit.

Previously a highly-paid IT executive, the SilkAir crash in 1997 prompted Tay to have a rethink of what he was doing with his life. He later quit his job, backpacked around the world, and then started GUI.

Debates over land use in Singapore and the loss of rustic spaces are issues which resonate with him. He went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about this, values in an ideal society, and what it means to put your money where your mouth is. But first, he took on what it meant to be called a “hippie”.

Tay Lai Hock: Well, I always say that if I'm a hippie, then I'm a hippie who promotes free love, free play, free spirit, but I don't talk about free drugs or free sex, things like these. What I'm trying to do is help Singaporeans free their minds.

So often, we hear people say that they are very stifled. They're very caught up with all the day-to-day running around and making a living that they have forgotten how to live. What's wrong with what I'm trying to do? I'm not against anything. I'm just not doing what the mainstream thinks everybody should be doing.

So I'm just providing an alternative platform for Singaporeans. So naturally, the government officials when they started to try and understand what I'm trying to do, they asked me about it. Of course, the more progressive ones, the more open-minded ones will think that I'm doing good. But there are people who said I’m misleading youth. That one really hurts me.

Bharati Jagdish: Are you at liberty to say who said this about you?

Tay: No, I don't think I should.

Bharati: But it was a government official?

Tay: Of course. I had more than one government official telling me this.

Bharati: Why do you think they think this of you?

Tay: I don't know. I was shocked, I was like "Why are you saying this? What have I done? What did I do wrong?" Fortunately, that was about three years ago. I was really upset that day. Why do they think I’m poisoning the minds of the young? What have I done wrong?


Bharati: To what extent do you think this is because in Singapore, we have a culture of focusing on certain things - academic success, material success, but what you're trying to do is quite different?

Tay: We all know that we're chasing the five Cs right? You’ve probably heard that I backpacked around the world for four years. And in the last year, the last few months of my travels, I was sitting in the Sahara Desert, and I was looking back at Singapore and I said, "Okay Lai Hock, you haven't died yet, you did well in the last few years, so what are you going to do now?"

So I said, "I'm going back to Singapore."

At that time, our Government released the Remaking Singapore blueprint. Two things caught my attention. The first thing was, we want to teach Singaporeans how to take risks. I thought, "Wow, how do you create that, how to do that when the whole environment doesn’t even promote risk-taking?” Of course compared to back then in the early 2000s, I think Singapore is doing better now.

If you read the press, if you interview our local institutions, they are promoting a lot of entrepreneurship. The Government is putting in a lot of money to promote all kinds of things. But in my opinion, a lot of people are only taking risks because there’s a lot of money being put into them.

The second thing they said was, “We want to teach Singaporeans how to be more creative." But our definition of creativity is narrow. For people like me, I will never be classified as a creative person.

Bharati: Why not?

Tay: You must be an artist, you must be this, you must be that.

Bharati: Yeah, that's the conventional definition of “creative”.

Tay: But my four years of travelling around the world living as a backpacker in so many countries made me have this confidence. I said, "I am a creative person. I'm living creatively." Now creativity need not be confined to just an art skill, but if you're able to live creatively, and that's where you need to be that free spirit. You need to be able to freely conceive things and adapt along the way, and change if you need to change. And -

Bharati: Solve problems.

Tay: Solve problems and not be just "uhh." So when I came back, I really wanted to do all these kinds of things. And of course it was five years later that I decided that I will start my own organisation.

Bharati: In your opinion, why do we lack a culture of risk-taking and creativity?

Tay: It's recognised that we have a good government. And the people do look up to them. It's either we're too comfortable or everything has been too convenient. The other thing is the lesser emphasis on character building; everything is always about results. Also, the majority of our population is Chinese. Chinese traditionally have Confucian ethics. So maybe it's in the Chinese blood to always to be a little bit more driven to study, right?

Bharati: Nothing wrong with studying.

Tay: Nothing wrong with studies, but traditionally studying means rote learning.

Bharati: It's about how you study isn't it?

Tay: Yeah, but I think our Education Ministry is one of the most progressive ministries. Almost every year, they will come up with new policies. But I think if you talk to any teachers enough, everybody is jaded. There's a disconnect somewhere, and that's the truth. I'm sure we all know that.

Bharati: What do you think needs to happen to bridge this disconnect?

Tay: I remember one Minister for Education who said that we must treat our students as clients. With this American philosophy of customer is king, suddenly a lot of parents started to behave like kings and started going to schools and making demands, and so I did tell the last Minister, who’s now the Minister for Finance -

Bharati: Mr Heng Swee Keat.

Tay: Yeah, I did tell him that; I'm glad that one day in the press it was reported that he said no to this. And I feel that we need to have a fine balance. So I'm not entirely sure that these are the reasons, but I think that our teachers are already under stress. And then they have added stress to deal with ugly parents. I’ve met some outstanding teachers, and they're trying their best to do this, implement teaching to encourage creativity, for example.

But I think it has come to the point where a lot of them just do it for the sake of doing it. There are many things affecting our system here. The whole world is facing this – prevalent technology and the internet, but the things that anchor us as human beings are eroding.

I know our country is trying to bring back Character and Citizenship Education, but this is after 20 years of cutting that away. That’s why I'm trying to do what I'm doing, to first focus on you as a person, as a character, and asking you to understand your place on earth and in this world, and as a living person.


Bharati: And you think one way of doing that is to actually do that through the ground. Literally.

Tay: Yes. I think we would all agree that our environment shapes us. A few years ago, one school Vice Principal from a top school came to see me and said, "Our students have issues. When they see wildlife and other creatures like butterflies, they scream and shout because they are not comfortable with nature.” So I went down to the school two months later, took a walk. It’s a beautiful school, designed by a top architect. But it was “PAP” green.

Bharati: “PAP” green?

Tay: Prim and Proper. So when everything is very prim and proper, what do you think your students will become? Prim and proper.

Bharati: You’re referring to our manicured parks.

Tay: Yes. Nothing wrong with Gardens by the Bay, nothing wrong with Botanic Gardens, but we need a little bit more rustic space. And we took away a lot of rustic space. Our authorities say you can go to our neighbouring countries and see all this, but we know we need this here.

Bharati: Why do we need it? Make a case for it. Because a lot of people out there think we don't need it.

Tay: There are statistics, philosophers and doctors who have said it. Rustic environments are nurturing. And I've seen it with my own eyes, having lived overseas for a while. I've seen the difference between people who are a little bit more rugged, and the way they react to things.

When I started my organisation eight years ago, on the surface, it seems to get people back to the ground, to touch the soil, get their hands dirty, grow your own food, do some craft on your own. If you look more deeply, it’s about getting people to take care of the space. I told my team, “I want you to dirty your hands, I want you to build your space. When you build the space, you have a sense of ownership. I want you to take care of the toilets.”

If I have a chance, I want to influence people who will be eventually be top leaders, CEOs, government people. People who will be in charge of policies that influence people's lives. They should be people who understand the ground, understand the people and influence others to take ownership too. You can't try to make changes with the same old people who have been educated in the same old system. You think that will work?

Our focus is on the 5 Gs – Gracious, Green, Giving, Grounded, Grateful. Now, I'm glad to say that our Government is bringing back cleaning toilets.


Bharati: In the schools? Cleaning classrooms and common areas, actually. But some parents are upset that their kids have to do this.

Tay: Yes I know. So I think the top people, ministers, must demonstrate this themselves consistently. Not once in a while for photo opportunities.

Bharati: So they need to clean their offices and the toilets in their offices?

Tay: Yes. I heard from enough parents who told me that when the Government said that every school is a good school, they felt that the ministers themselves should then send their kids to neighbourhood schools. Why don’t they? This is what’s causing the disconnect. What I’m trying to say is put your money where your mouth is.

Bharati: You’ve also said that we need to change our definition of success. But as you mentioned earlier, a lot of people are in a comfortable position and they want to maintain this instead of changing it.

Tay: Yes, I have met people who say "I don't know what you're doing, but I need my air con, I need my comfort."

Bharati: And they work hard for this comfort.

Tay: That's right. So that's their definition of success. Nothing wrong with that. I’m just trying to provide an alternative to those who feel it’s getting too much. To help them incorporate some of the philosophies I’ve learnt from others about healthy eating and living and building character, connecting with the land, connecting with people of the community. So I put my money where my mouth is, by doing it myself.

Bharati: But you gave up your job to do this and while you make some money through school programmes, etc., you’ve said yourself that making a living can be challenging at times. It’s natural for people to worry – “If I give up my job to take a risk, what will I live on?” The high-cost environment is a reality.

Tay: Yeah, I hear that all the time. Every now and then, people write about me and readers will respond, “I'm so afraid; I cannot be like this guy." But I always tell people "You don't have to be like me, you just have to do it bit by bit."

Bharati: So in other words you can still have the comforts of your life, do you job, but make room for something more than that?

Tay: Yes, I’d like to think that it is possible, to infuse this into urban life as well.

Bharati: People have responsibilities though. Financial responsibilities. You've experienced what life with money is like. A lot of people have not. Or, they have to do it because they have families to look after. You're not married, nor have children.

Tay: Okay. Bharati do you know, today my CPF is only around hundred thousand. I probably cannot retire comfortably in Singapore. I don't have huge savings. But I’m happy with little. I know many people who have earned a lot of money, and still want to earn a lot of money, because they want to buy the latest phone, they want to buy the latest gadget, they keep changing things, they only want to eat nicer things. And then when all these material things cannot stimulate their senses, they go and buy a yacht. Or they imagine their kids need all these things, then they will be happy.


Bharati: At this point I understand, and you told me this off-air earlier, that you are S$300,000 in debt. Some may look at you and go, “I don’t want a life like that. Where is the peace in being in debt?”

Tay: The thing is, in 2014 we signed a lease for our place, and of course we fought very hard for it. 26,000sqm of space. I told the Government I will find money to build this whole campus. I do not want to be a charity. I always tell people, I want our young to know what resilience is and we’re practising it. We will never stop doing things just because we don't have money and resources. Instead, we will become more creative in the process. It goes back to the first two things I talked about - risk-taking and creativity.

I'm now trying to rebuild the whole space. A big pond. There were six ponds, we refilled them and rezoned it to create a very nice, different habitat with integrated farming, and many other things. I choose to make these investments. I'm not here to say you must be like me, right? If you are listening to me now, I’m not saying you should go out and give up your job. I’m just saying get more equilibrium, balance in your life.

Bharati: We’ll talk more about how you managed to get such a space in land-scarce Singapore later. But you're in debt now and you talked about balance. Some might say your life isn’t very balanced; it’s all about this and it’s caused you to be in debt.

Tay: And I'm okay.

Bharati: Why?

Tay: You know, two weeks ago, I went to a social enterprise summit. Two hundred and fifty people from eight countries came down to Singapore and I was invited. I didn't speak. But some of the overseas speakers who are already operating a social enterprise, said, “We don't want free money because free money makes us lazy.” I was intrigued.

Now, I can understand why, despite our Government throwing so much money to try to nurture entrepreneurs, the result is less than ideal. I’d like to believe that working for your own money would force us to become more enterprising, while we still want to do social good. I want us to be able to create a different kind of model so that the young don't see doing social stuff as having to sacrifice their money.

Bharati: But in doing this, you have sacrificed your financial security.

Tay: When these things happen, I quiet down - this is something I practised for a long time - I quiet down my heart, I take a walk. I don't talk to a lot of people. I just ask myself, “Lai Hock, why are you doing this? What is your reason for doing this? Is it for fame? Is it for money?”

I go back to my original intention, my purpose for doing it. I really believe Singapore deserves a space like what I'm trying to build. That the future generation will not take many things for granted. That they will look at nature, as not just something like manicured gardens. They will go there and have a place to look after, and a community, a real community, true community.

Bharati: But you still have to deal with the financial problems. How do you plan to get over this hump?

Tay: You must trust that the divine will come in. There will be some intervention. I happen to embrace every faith. I go around and I talk to people, and bit by bit, some light comes in. Some people come and sponsor some materials, maybe S$100,000 of material, and it helps reduce the cost. You’ve got to do it bit by bit.


Bharati: I understand you believe we suffer from spiritual and emotional poverty. How much of this do you think has to do with the tone our Government set for many years; economic progress seemed to be the paramount concern?

Tay: I think the top should set the example, but I also believe, you first and foremost, must take responsibility for your own life. Take responsibility and ownership for your decision-making. Don't blame anybody. Don't blame the Government. Yes, of course, they might have sometimes say, “I fault the Government for this”. But you know what? I have a choice to decide that even though they have made this policy, I don't want to be a victim of their policies.

I have many people who told me, “Lai Hock, when I was in Australia, when I was in New Zealand, was in US, I talked to people on the street, they were all so nice. I came back to Singapore, and I said “hi” to people, but because nobody responded to me, I stopped being like that, and I have become who I am now.”

So, you blame the Government, you blame society. Yeah, go and blame everybody. But I hope more people will come together to create a holistic solution. It starts from young. So I have programmes running from kindergartens, to primary and secondary schools. We give them tips. For instance, when you get on the bus, greet the bus-driver. There are already enough conversations, written articles, grumblings from people that we need to have more graciousness, and that they are sick and fed up of this rat race. Why aren't we doing something about it then?

Bharati: You mentioned earlier that people should not blame the Government, they should take responsibility for their own decision-making, but you also implied that the Government does set the tone for a lot of issues in Singapore and needs to lead by example. To what extent do you think the Government needs to step back, and create the conditions for people to take ownership and to trust people to do so?

Tay: I'm all for the Government needing to step back a little, provided it's not caving in to pressure, unnecessary pressure. I look at some of the things people try to make the Government change, and I don’t agree. For example, some say the Government should be a bit more lenient on drug trafficking. That, I disagree. But yes, in other areas, the Government needs to really, not just relax and take a step back.

Bharati: In what aspects?

Tay: I think when it comes to maybe something that affects our daily life a lot. Estate management for instance. Honestly our HDB estates are not the cleanest. I’ve personally always felt that our citizens should step up a lot more, to learn how to take care of their own environment.

Bharati: So clean your own environment. I believe there is a No Cleaner Day in some estates, so that residents can step up to do the cleaning.

Tay: Yes, but it needs to be more than once a year or once a month. I feel that when you are really, really stepping up to look after your space, you will have that sense of ownership. The kampung spirit that we all talk so much about, will really come about, strongly.


Bharati: Recently there have been debates over issues like the Cross Island Line, whether it should cut beneath the Central Catchment Nature Reserve or be built around it. What are your feelings when such possibilities are discussed in Singapore, considering you talked about the importance of nature and rustic areas in Singapore?

Tay: I feel sad. I want to say this honestly. To save six minutes, we're going to cut through things. What's the justification? Save six minutes of travel time? I think we’ve got to stop. This is where I stand by what I said. Our authorities have got to stop, and start leading by example.

If you say that we want to teach future generations that this is my country, it is worth defending, then we should start bringing back intrinsic values, emotional values, that cannot be defined and shouldn't be defined by economic status.

Bharati: But economic status is something worth defending as well.

Tay: True, I benefited.

Bharati: It's something that we are all proud of.

Tay: I benefited from it. My passport right now, Singapore passport, allows me to travel to so many countries.

Bharati: Yeah, so we've benefited from Singapore's economic status, why are you pooh-poohing it?

Tay: But where is the limit? Where is the limit to the growth? And it's precisely because of this growth at all costs that we are seeing this apathy. We are seeing this situation that Singaporeans are not hungry enough, or we're seeing this whole thing that the Government knows best. We need balance.

Bharati: People will be affected if the longer route for the CRL were chosen. People who live in homes that will be lost.

Tay: I have a lot of sympathy for them, don't get me wrong. Definitely. I think I remember the days when the MRT was starting to be built in Singapore, lots of people were affected. And in those days when people were affected, they were compensated much less. Hopefully these days our Government will compensate much better. Maybe that might ease the pain. I don't have an answer for that.

Bharati: But you feel that nature should take precedence?

Tay: Because we’ve already cut off so much nature in Singapore. It's unfortunate that we want a Cross Island Line; hopefully with good engineering capability and innovation, we can maybe build high enough so that it just passes over homes. Maybe we need to really exercise our imagination. Does it have to be a case of demolishing the homes or cutting under the nature reserve? Could it be something totally different?

Bharati: What do you think of the Kranji farms having to move – the authorities recently announced they will be given more time to move and their leases for the new sites will be longer, but initially, the authorities didn’t seem to understand that the leases needed to be longer.

Tay: And you know this is precisely the cause of many of our situations. They decide on things without really going down to the ground and listening. And this short-sightedness, that we have money so we can buy food from all over the world. Look at our population right now. Look at the kind of attitude that is imbued into all these people. These are the side effects that our country continues to regret. They forgot that all these things are inter-connected, our connection with the land, the country, the character of our people.


Bharati: Since we’re on the subject of land, how did you manage to convince the authorities to give up that land to you for your Kampung Kampus.

Tay: I think while we all like to say all of us can make a difference in our own, however small way, we also know that size matters, right? No big corporation, foundation, will do it. So it takes people like me who are silly enough to rally a group of also silly enough people who say, “Let's try to do it and hope maybe someone, someday, will say we have got it right.”

You must demonstrate to them what you're trying to do, what's your plan. We have enough shopping malls. How about giving Singaporeans a chance to see something different, to experience something different?

Then you must be like me, a bit more thick skinned and my heart's a little bit more steel and iron. I get bashed, never mind. Dented, never mind. I’m still standing there and still trying to talk. And then go and continue to find ways to knock on different doors of different agencies. We have talked to so many different people, tried to invite ministers to come. So five ministers came down. We presented the case to them, and then got many people to talk about us.

Bharati: You’ve said that our definition of success and happiness needs to change. In a nutshell, what’s your definition?

Tay: The fact that you mentioned that I have debt, and I'm still not stressed - I think that speaks a lot to my state of mind. I think having a good conversation, cooking my own simple meal - simple rice with some sprouts. Having the ability to know that you are able to do something with peace of mind, and enjoy every moment, in spite of difficulties. Yesterday, I went to Pierce Reservoir and saw a beautiful sunset. Singapore still has beautiful places like these. I sincerely feel that this country needs to see something much more different, and have a community which is really looking after the space, finding a way to finance the whole thing, and not relying on just handouts and things like that. Then, I think this spirit will enable this country to see the next 50 years, SG100.

- 938LIVE/av

Read more!

Changes to boost disease-outbreak control

Linette Lai, The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Jul 16

Healthcare professionals will soon be able to anonymously report infectious disease outbreaks, and IT systems used to track these incidents will be beefed up.

These are some of the changes made at the recommendation of a task force set up last December to strengthen outbreak detection and response in Singapore.

The eight-member team's 15 recommendations also included measures to improve how the Ministry of Health (MOH) monitors infectious diseases, as well as establish a clear decision-making structure.

The team also proposed changes to boost communication between healthcare institutions and ensure such outbreaks can be properly handled even outside acute hospitals.

The task force, headed by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, was established in the wake of the hepatitis C outbreak at the Singapore General Hospital last year.

Then, 25 kidney patients admitted between January and September were diagnosed with the viral infection. Eight of them died.

Following this, an independent review committee was set up to probe the causes behind the outbreak. It concluded that poor infection control practices and a slow response time were to blame.

The task force was then created to strengthen Singapore's ability to detect and respond to such outbreaks. It submitted 15 recommendations to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on June 30, all of which were accepted.

The team comprised experts in infectious diseases, systems engineering and data science.

For example, MOH said in a statement yesterday, healthcare professionals will be able to anonymously report outbreaks "to encourage a culture of open reporting".

"People on the ground sometimes have a better sense of what is going on," said Adjunct Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian, who heads the infectious diseases department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

"Doing so takes away some of the barriers to why people might not want to come forward, because they might not want to cause trouble."

The ministry has designated its Communicable Diseases Division as the unit in charge of overseeing surveillance of all infectious diseases and outbreak reporting.

MOH has also expanded the list of notifiable infectious diseases, which doctors are required by law to report to the authorities, from 43 to 49.

The list, which originally included diseases such as dengue and Ebola, will now also include botulism, tetanus, leptospirosis, murine typhus, rabies and Japanese encephalitis.

On the technology front, the task force recommended that MOH improve its data analytic capabilities to monitor the situation and trigger alerts if abnormalities are detected.

MOH said it will consolidate data from different sources and design the system to trigger alerts if needed. It will also share the data collected with healthcare institutions, after putting in safeguards to protect individuals' privacy.

"This two-way information flow will help to improve surveillance and early detection, enhance situational awareness across institutions, and encourage sharing within the healthcare system for better infection prevention and control," it said.

MOH had previously announced the initial recommendations of the task force in March. These included setting up a new National Outbreak Response Team, as well as simplifying the process of notifying the authorities of infectious diseases.

Professor Leo Yee Sin, who is director of the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology and chaired the independent review committee, said the changes show a conscious effort to continue improving our healthcare system.

"This is quite a major change," she said. "Although the entire system in Singapore is well known to be good internationally, we have to look into continuing to improve all our processes."

List of notifiable diseases to be expanded; steps taken to beef up outbreak response: MOH
Channel NewsAsia 8 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) will expand the list of notifiable diseases, and took steps to make the reporting of cases more user-friendly, at the recommendation of a taskforce to strengthen outbreak detection and response, it announced on Friday (Jul 8).

The taskforce, led by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, was set up at the recommendation of an Independent Review Committee on the Hepatitis C outbreak that was discovered at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in June 2015. The committee had said that a gap in the national response system to outbreaks led to SGH not recognising the Hepatitis C cluster in a timely manner and resulted in delays in escalating the matter.

In a media statement on Friday, MOH noted that the taskforce called for the strengthening of surveillance through improving the comprehensiveness of information gathered for infectious diseases.

To this end, MOH said it would expand the list of notifiable infectious diseases from the current 43 to include six additional diseases: botulism, tetanus, leptospirosis, murine typhus, rabies and Japanese encephalitis.

To facilitate earlier detection of outbreaks, the taskforce also recommended setting up an enhanced surveillance system to extract test results related to infectious disease data from laboratories. MOH said positive diagnostic test results would also be automatically reported to the ministry, to simplify the process and improve data analysis.


The taskforce also recommended making the notification of cases and reporting of incidents more user-friendly, and MOH said it has modified its processes to allow doctors to notify MOH via multiple modes (e.g. online, fax, phone) to best suit the workflow of their clinical practice. It said that doctors need notify MOH of each case only once, without having to duplicate the notification from laboratories.

The ministry said it would also leverage information technology systems to facilitate infectious disease reporting, including the use of system prompts built into daily workflows and linked databases that allow for auto-population of data fields.

To encourage a culture of open reporting, MOH said it would put in place a system to accept anonymous reports of infectious disease outbreaks and incidents from healthcare professionals.


The taskforce recommended that MOH enhance its data analytic capabilities to monitor the local infectious disease situation, detect abnormalities and trigger alerts. This includes the surveillance of disease syndromes that can help pick up cases of new and unfamiliar diseases.

MOH said it would consolidate data from different sources and design its IT system to trigger warnings if there are abnormalities detected.

MOH also accepted the taskforce’s recommendation to share the aggregate data which it has collected with healthcare institutions, "with appropriate safeguards to protect data confidentiality," it said.


The taskforce called for MOH to establish clear accountability to integrate infectious disease information and to deal with outbreaks.

To this end, MOH said it would strengthen the resources of the Communicable Diseases Division (CDD) "to deal with an increasingly connected and complex environment, with emerging infectious diseases spreading across borders, and through animals and food".


The Health Ministry said it would work with healthcare institutions to strengthen local capabilities for infection control and outbreak response. "We will implement platforms to encourage inter-institutional learning, including peer reviews and collaboration with academia and research institutions. We will develop capabilities within the Regional Health Systems to respond to and control outbreaks within their areas, including in community facilities beyond acute hospitals," it added.

In March, MOH set up a National Outbreak Response Team to augment efforts to deal with major infectious diseases. This will complement the establishment of the National Centre of Infectious Diseases in 2018, MOH said.


Read more!

Why nature is catching on as “the thing to do” these days

JOY FANG Today Online 9 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — The phrase, “Let’s go for a walk” used to invoke images of a lazy saunter taken on by couples who are enjoying their golden years. These days, going for a walk brings about a humming vibe of excitement — it involves sojourns deep into nature, treks through rugged terrain, and most importantly, it is an activity increasingly enjoyed by younger Singaporeans.

Just take the popularity of places such as Coney Island, Kranji Marshes and The Green Corridor among the younger and trigger-happy set. These areas have been transformed by social media into the “Most Instagram-worthy Spots in Singapore” and see a constant stream of visitors. This increased lust for the outdoors is also something that has been noticed by those in the scene. And thankfully, the interest in nature goes beyond it functioning as mere photography backdrop.

Ben Lee, founder of nature conservation group Nature Trekker, cited a 15 to 25 per cent increase in participation numbers for its activities last year, compared to 2014. The group organises between 45 to 65 trips per year, and activities include outdoor trekking, nature photography tours, nature exploration in Chek Jawa, and more. The Chek Jawa trip is its most popular one, and it organises between eight to 
12 trips per month, attracting some 24 to 36 people each trip.

Lee said while there is a “cool factor” attached to nature activities these days, he also feels people are more interested now because of greater awareness of Singapore’s vulnerability due to land scarcity. “Over the years, there was so much media coverage…relating to the importance of nature conservation (and) preserving nature heritage as well as the creation of many new nature parts and nature corridors,” he pointed out.

This might have attracted youths to get involved with “more worthy” causes or projects, he said, adding that youths could be drawn to the fact that they can be part of a community which they can learn from.

Agreeing, a spokesperson from the Naked Hermit Crabs, which is a group made up of volunteer guides, said social media has helped in boosting outreach numbers. “Singaporeans are definitely getting more appreciative of their surroundings and the environment as the world becomes more eco-minded,” she said.

The group does 12 to 14 free guided walks in a year. Currently, it is focusing on Chek Jawa and the 
Pasir Ris mangrove.

The group used to attract 50 to 60 participants for its nature walks, but numbers have grown to around 80 in the last couple of years, according to the spokesperson. Tours also tend to be oversubscribed especially during the school holidays where the group would get 200 or more sign-ups for tours that can only take 80 to 100 people, she added.

Ria Tan, who runs the Wild Shores of Singapore blog and volunteers as a guide for Naked Hermit Crabs, said she has encountered many parents who want their children to learn more about nature and to experience rustic Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa for themselves. “I think it’s good that Singaporeans want to learn more and experience their own natural heritage,” she said.

Wong Tuan Wah, Group Director, Conservation, from National Parks Board (NParks) said NParks organises approximately 200 tours this year, and response has been positive. Popular tours such as the Chek Jawa Guided Tour (incidentally one is running today, and allows a maximum of six groups of 15 pax per day) and the “What’s in my?” series of walks (which can take a maximum 20 pax each time, are often fully registered shortly after they are opened for booking — “indicating the public’s keen interest in nature”, said Wong.

“We are very encouraged by the enthusiastic response from members of the public. This is testimony of their interest in our rich biodiversity and support for our City in a Garden vision. We hope to create greater awareness in Singapore to encourage more people to help conserve our natural heritage and transform Singapore into a City in a Garden,” he added.

To cope with the strong public interest, Wong says NParks is working with the community to train more volunteer guides to share interesting information on the history, 
heritage, flora and fauna with groups they lead.

Another spokesman from NUS Toddycats, who are volunteers with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at National University of Singapore, said their walks are usually “maxed out” within 24 to 48 hours of opening up registration. The group runs a Love Our MacRitchie Forest Walk and it typically organises about 15 such free guided nature walks a year, with about 300 participants in total.

“We see concerned members of the public wanting to learn about conserving nature in the face of rapid development in Singapore,” said the spokesman.

“People in Singapore are generally interested and curious. As long as we provide the avenues for people to explore and make sure they know of it, they will respond,” she added.

Indeed, as Singapore becomes increasingly urbanised, it is only natural that one seeks out Mother Nature.

After all, according to the Naked Hermit Crabs, the standard of living in Singapore has gone up in the past decade or two, which gives people “time to move away from materialistic needs to reconnect with nature, as they realise that material goods can’t always buy 
you happiness”.

“More and more people seek experiences to rest and relax in our 
urban environment.”

3 best nature trails to see Singapore’s surprisingly diverse wildlife
SONIA YEO Today Online 9 Jul 16;


Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve not only has animals such as mudskippers and crabs living in the wetlands, it is also “home to thousands of migratory birds flocking into the reserve each year as a stopover, specifically those on the Australasia flyway route,” Lee said. Rare birds like the Asian dowitcher, black-winged stilt and Chinese egret stop in Singapore once a year during the bird migratory month from September to March. “I usually visit Sungei Buloh about 72 times a year and on one occasion, I got the chance to see the Asian dowitcher. It usually stays about seven days when it stops over at the reserve,” he said.

Those with a keen eye may be able to see the long-tailed macaque scampering through the reserve. At the mangrove swamp, you might even catch sight of a mangrove snake and a saltwater crocodile.


Situated along the edge of Lower Peirce Reservoir, the Lower Peirce Trail is the last remaining mature secondary forest in Singapore, and is home to an extensive wildlife with more than 250 animal species. You can encounter a wide range of them just along its 900m boardwalk.

At the forest layer of the forest lie the cyathea latebrosa, a type of tree fern. These ferns can be easily identified as they have a single tall stem and many can be found along the trail. Another interesting tree to point out to impress your friends is the distinct nibong palm, which sports thorns on its trunk.

As you continue on your trail, look around you and you might spot a lesser mousedeer. It feeds on leaves and shoots and is more active at night. Lee shared that squirrels can also be seen, such as the plantain squirrel and the slender squirrel. Look out too for a squirrel-lookalike called the common treeshrew. “The common treeshrew can usually be seen running across paths as they get from one tree to the other,” 
Lee said.

3. Prunus Trail at Macritchie Boardwalks

This trail, which starts near the entrance of MacRitchie Nature Trail, has its fair share of flora and fauna. The trail has some intriguing plants, such as the macaranga bancana, also known as the “ant plant” as ants reside in its hollow; the tembusu tree which has flowers that give off a strong scent when in bloom; and lianas, which climb and twine around the 
other plants.

Take slow and gentle steps, and you might see the clouded monitor lizard and oriental whip snake. Other native creatures include the pink-necked green pigeon and banded woodpecker. For bug enthusiasts, try to spot butterflies such as the common grass yellow and the banded imperial, which are found in the understory layer of the forest which receives very little sunlight.

Five spots to get in touch with nature (that are also Instagram-friendly)
JOY FANG Today Online 9 Jul 16;

Nestled within the Dairy Farm Nature Park, this trail allows visitors to learn about the park through the eyes of English naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Walk through a dense forested area which used to house a kampung community, and spot remnants from the past, such as the walls of houses and wells. Also try to catch sight of a Chempedak Tree, as well as fruit trees bearing durians, coconuts and green apples. If you’re a bird lover, keep your eyes peeled for the Crimson Sunbird, the Olive-winged Bulbul, and the Asian Glossy Starling. This 1km route will take you about 30 to 45 minutes to finish.

Northern Explorer Loop

Get in touch with the wild northern side of Singapore with this 11km route, which you can traverse either by walking or by cycling. The trail starts from Lower Seletar Reservoir Park and ends at Woodlands Waterfront. Along the way, you can catch stunning views of Upper Seletar Reservoir from the Mandai Park Connector, get a taste of rustic life at Ulu Sembawang Park Connector, spot flora and fauna in the 20ha nature area in Admiralty Park, or soak in a tranquil sea view at Woodlands Waterfront — a coastal park that has a 1.5km long promenade. It will take you about two to three hours
to complete.

Kranji Marsh

This 56.8-hectare freshwater marshland is home to unique biodiversity and is also one of the largest freshwater marshes in Singapore. Breathe in the full beauty of nature there with its freshwater marsh, woodland and grass habitats, and try to catch sight of the more than 170 species of birds, 54 species of butterflies and 33 species of dragonflies living in the area. If you pay attention, you might see a Changeable Hawk Eagle or White-bellied Sea Eagle perching on one of the tall trees. Visit one of the bird hides at the Marsh Station for a chance to observe shy marsh birds such as the Purple Swamphen and Common Moorhen. Cap the trip with a panoramic view of the Kranji Marshes and Kranji Reservoir from the top of the Raptor Tower.

Bukit Batok Nature Park

This 36ha park, which takes about one to two hours to explore, has several highlights: A World War II memorial site at the top of the hill and a awesome vantage view of a quarry pool from lookout points. Try to catch sight of the wide variety of fruit trees there, such as rambutan, breadfruit and mango trees. Wild animals such as monitor lizards, squirrels and monkeys are also present (if you look hard enough). Be warned that there are plenty of stairs in this trail, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Fun fact: The war memorial, called the Syonan Chureito, was built by the Japanese to commemorate those who died during a fierce battle that took place there during World War II. It has since been destroyed. All that is left of the original shrine are the steps and two short pillars at the base.

The Southern Ridges

This 10km trail connects Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, HortPark, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve, and is one of the best spots for panoramic views of the city, harbour and the Southern Islands. Picture-perfect stops include Henderson Waves connecting Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park. It stands 36m above Henderson Road, making it the highest pedestrian bridge here. The Forest Walk and Canopy Walk — elevated walkways cutting through secondary forests — make for a lush respite to take some fresh air. Set aside around three to five hours for this route.

The Dos and Don’ts of Trekking
SONIA YEO SIJIA Today Online 9 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — Do you know your little hike in, say, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve might cause more trouble than you realise? You could be destroying nature accidentally with every step. Here are some tips from Ben Lee, the founder of non-profit group Nature Trekker and seasoned hiker Chua Tien Seng to minimise 

STAY ON TRACK. As you start your hike, always stay on the pathways that are built for the trail. There are plants and flowers growing at the edge of the trail. Lee said that you should avoid stepping on them and also “avoid stepping onto muddy trails as it will create a deeper depression or erode the earth”, adding that it is better to step on the drier area of the trail 
if possible.

Never go into places with streams, canals or rivers. Walking through them would be destructive to the organisms living in it. In addition, do not “jungle bash”. That means do not force your way through a 
blocked path.

NO FEEDING OF ANIMALS. This may sound like a no-brainer, but there are still some out there who insist on feeding animals their crumbs or leftovers, thinking that it is okay. It isn’t. Lee pointed out that animals should always be left on their own. “This is so that they will not lose their killer instinct to find food on their own,” 
Lee said.

ENJOY THE GREENERY BY BEING GREEN. Avoid littering at all cost. Chua suggests to “always bring a trash bag to carry back whatever rubbish you have”. Bringing your own water bottle would also help decrease plastic waste. For those who drive, Chua suggests taking public transport for that day. He quipped: “It helps save the environment and sustains 
a healthy lifestyle, too.”

KEEP YOUR PETS AT HOME WHEN TREKKING. Many dog owners like to bring their furry friends as they run through the trails. While canines make good companions, they might bark when they see or sense other native animals living in the reserve. This might scare these creatures. Avoid bringing your dogs to Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, trails in MacRitchie, Lower Peirce Trail and Labrador Nature Reserve.

RESPECT THE WILDLIFE. Keep your noise levels low and try not to play your music out loud while trekking as it might startle animals. Try to appreciate and enjoy the sounds of nature. Apart from that, do not use any gizmos such as remote-control flying devices as they might cause major damage to the flora 
and fauna. Sonia Yeo

Read more!

Malaysia: Downpours to replace dry spell

The Star 9 Jul 16;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians burned under the merciless El Nino heatwave in the first half of the year, but they might be wading through La Nina’s heavy rain and floods in the second half.

As the Philippines and Taiwan floundered under the onslaught of Super Typhoon Nepartak, international weather forecasters were predicting a possible deluge in Malaysia in the next few months.

The La Nina is likely to be here at the tail end of the strongest El Nino in 20 years, which brought scorching heat and dry days. The La Nina is predicted to bring heavy rain.

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, there were already thunderstorms, heavy rain and strong winds over parts of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya in Selangor and in Muar, Kluang, Kota Tinggi and Johor Bahru in Johor.

The latest data from a US climate agency revealed that there was a 75% chance that La Nina will happen sometime from October to December.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department (Met Malaysia) had also previously told Bernama that it would monitor developments and will be on high alert during the last three months of the year.

Its deputy director for operations Alui Bahari was quoted as saying that based on the weather pattern, La Nina’s effects could be worst at the year’s end, which is also when the monsoon peaks.

“If there is no La Nina effect, the weather will return to normal with the usual wet spell in the East Coast during December, where the rains average between 600mm and 700mm,” he said.

El Nino, which means “the boy” in Spanish, is an irregular weather phenomenon that causes sea temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean to rise while La Nina, “the girl” leads to a cooling of seawater.

La Nina often takes place after El Nino ends.

The last El Nino cycle between March 2015 and May 2016 was the most powerful on record, heating the world’s oceans to never-before-seen levels, drying up dams and withering crops.

According to climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah, the east coast states, along with Sabah and Sarawak, are likely to bear the worst brunt of La Nina’s effects.

“The floods are dependent on the location and the duration of the rainfall.

“If the heavy rainfall is along coastal areas, a devastating deluge like the one that occurred in 2014 may be possible.

“However, if the heavy rainfall happens in the interior for, say four to five days, like how it happened in 2014, that could cause the river levels to rise up to 10m and cause massive flooding,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

Floods submerged six states in the peninsula in the last weeks of 2014, with Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang being the worst-hit. Nearly 100,000 people had to be evacuated during the floods.

Right now, however, haze is also a concern as areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan begin open burning.

Dr Azizan, however, was reported as saying the haze would not be as bad as last year because of La Nina’s predicted stronger effects, which will bring more rain for this month and the next.

“Places in the east coast like Kemaman, Kota Baru, and the south of Sarawak, especially Kuching will have to be wary of the haze from July to August, and later the possibility of a deluge,” he said.

Two days ago, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar allayed fears of a severe transboundary haze happening this year.

He said Indonesia seemed to be doing its part to honour its commitment to contain haze, and so far there had been only a few hotspots in Sumatra and two in Kalimantan.

“Whatever it is, Indonesia is still going to be answerable to its neighbours based on the Asean Agree-ment on Transboundary Haze Pollution 2002,” he said.

Indonesian law allows 40% of smallholders cultivating oil palm and trees for pulp and paper to conduct open burning on their farmlands of 2ha each.

However, Indonesia is facing a lot of pressure from Malaysia and Singapore, which suffers the most from the phenomenon.

Penang more worried about drying dams
The Star 9 Jul 16;

GEORGE TOWN: There are fears of heavy rains soon but for now, Penangites are more concerned about the hot weather that has left the dams in the state drying up.

State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said it was crucial that the dams were filled in the next three months to ensure enough supply to handle any dry spell next year.

“Rain is necessary at this point in time as the dam levels are not increasing,” he said yesterday.

Chow said the Penang Water Supply Corporation Sdn Bhd (PBAPP) was expecting rain in July, August and September.

“We are still puzzled over the delay in the rain, as it is already July,” he said.

Penang Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Tamat said his men were ready to respond in the event La Nina hits the state.

“Sometimes, we are prepared to face a disaster, but it does not occur.

“We just make sure that our men and equipment are ready at all times,” he said.

According to a report, dated July 1 on the Malaysian Meteorological Department website, rainfall levels are forecast at between 90mm at its lowest and 430mm at its highest over the next six months.

Penang is expected to experience normal rainfall levels for the second half of the year. The state will only get heavier rains and thunderstorms in October due to the monsoon.

The website also indicated that Penang will experience rain and isolated thunderstorms for the next seven days starting yesterday.

A check by The Star showed that the water level at the Teluk Bahang Dam was 45.3%, while the Air Itam Dam was at 52.3% while for the Mengkuang Dam, it read 95.2%.

(PBAPP) chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa could not be contacted for comment.

Read more!

Malaysia: Rapid Development Causing Habitat Conflicts With Wild Animals

Rozainah Abdul Rahim Bernama 9 Jul 16;

KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 (Bernama) -- Rapid urbanisation and development projects in the Klang Valley have encroached on the habitat of wildlife, leaving them no choice but to 'compete' for shelter with humans.

Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) deputy director-general II Fakhrul Hatta Musa said police often received complaints from the public about wild animals such as monkeys, squirrels, foxes, apes, snakes and wild boars disprupting their homes.

"Disturbances can occur anywhere, especially in residential areas.

"However, the highest number of complaints received by Perhilitan is of monkeys," he told Bernama.

Fakhrul said that this year alone, as of May, a total of 519 complaints of monkey distrubances had been received in the Federal Territory and Selangor.

He said last year, the department received 1,297 complaints of monkey disturbances in the Klang Valley.

Since 2011, he said, Perhilitan had received 21,032 complaints regarding monkeys, which have had to be relocated or put to sleep.

"All the monkeys which are exterminated are then put into the incinerator at the Paya Indah Wetlands in Dengkil," he said.


Read more!

Indonesia sees fewer hot spots as authorities clamp down on Sumatra forest fires

Francis Chan Straits Times 9 Jul 16;

JAKARTA - Efforts by the authorities on Sumatra island to prevent and suppress land and forest fires early, have kept the number of hot spots in Indonesia low so far.

Latest satellite data showed that despite temperatures rising and the dry season setting in - both precursors to the annual haze problem - only nine hot spots were detected in Sumatra on Friday (July 8).

This was down from the 49 picked-up over the same areas on Wednesday and substantially lower than the 245 recorded last Sunday.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre in its latest forecast on Friday evening indicated that were only isolated hot spots detected in parts of Sumatra.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho attributed the improvement to "better anticipation" of what causes the fires and containing them early.

Water-bombing operations are underway and the Riau provincial government fire-fighting task force has been supplemented by officers from the Provincial Disaster Mitigation Agency, soldiers, policemen as well as other volunteer groups.

Dr Sutopo was quoted as saying in the Jakarta Globe on Saturday that the few fires that are still burning are those located in hard-to-reach areas.

A forest fire is seen burning from a helicopter belonging to the Indonesian National Board of Disaster Management in Pelalawan, Riau province, Sumatra island on June 13.
Related Story
Some 300 fire-linked hot spots detected in Indonesia

As with previous years, forest fires were expected during Aidilfitri, according to the BNPB.

The outbreak of fires, however, did not affect the local residents or wildlife in the area, said Dr Sutopo.

"There have been no reports of any impact on the community... and the air pollution standard index is still in a healthy level," he added.

The rampant burning of land in Sumatra last year, produced the thick smoke that led to one of the worst transboundary haze crisis, which affected millions in South-east Asia.

It was exactly one year ago, between July 8 and 9, when reports of the toxic haze blanketing parts of Sumatra first hit the headlines.

The acrid smell from the smoke then prompted local officials to distribute masks, while visibility at the Pekanbaru airport in Riau province dropped so low that flights had to be diverted elsewhere.

When the crisis peaked in October last year, there were more than 700 hot spots across Sumatra.

These fires, including hundreds detected in Kalimantan, raged for more than three months, causing more than half a million Indonesians to suffer from respiratory illnesses. At least 19 of them died.

The fires finally abated in November with the arrival of heavy rainfall.

To avoid a repeat of the debacle that brought Indonesia on the verge of a national emergency, President Joko Widodo has since ordered the authorities to get tough on errant farmers and plantation companies that still use fire to clear land.

The cultivation of carbon-rich peatlands has also been was banned and Mr Joko has also set up the country's first Peatlands Restoration Agency to "re-wet" millions of hectares of forests and peatlands over five years.

Regional authorities now also have the ability to mobilise tens of thousands of firefighters, including soldiers and those engaged by private plantation operators, in high-risk areas to ensure a faster response when a fire breaks out.

Satellite imagery detected about 730 hot spots so far this year, down from more than 2,900 in the first six months of last year, according to latest data from the BNPB.

Indonesian officials are not expecting a repeat of the crisis this year, though that may be due more to favourable weather than progress in addressing the underlying causes of the blazes.

Read more!

Indonesia: Forest Fires Increase During Idul Fitri

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 8 Jul 16;

Jakarta. A number of forest fire broke out in Riau, Sumatra, during the Idul Fitri holidays on Wednesday (06/07) and are still being put out on Friday (08/07) by forest authorities.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and Riau governor office ordered the Integrated Forest Fire Task Force in Riau to continue their efforts in putting out fires, in order for the hotspots to stop spreading like it did last year.

Based on the observations by the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan), their satellites spotted 49 hotspots in Sumatra with a confidence level of more than 50 percent and nine hotspots in Riau with a confidence level of more than 70 percent on Wednesday.

However according to BNPB, the number of hotspots with a confidence level of more than 70 percent increased on Friday, listing 19 in Riau, 41 in Sumatra, 10 in South Sulawesi and two in Central Kalimantan.

Integrated Forest Fire Task Force officers are still working their way to extinguish the fires from both ground and air assistance, with the collaborated efforts by the Provincial Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), National Military, National Police, Manggala Agni Forest Fire Brigade and various volunteers.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, BNPB head of data information and public relations, said that the fires are generally inaccessible and it will take time for ground officers to reach the scene.

He also stated that BNPB has predicted the forest fires to break out during Idul Fitri, as there is often an increase of forest fires during long holidays.

Despite the breakout, no reports of disturbed wildlife or local residents in the area have been made.

“There has been no reports of any impacts on the community due to its location, and the air pollution standard index still indicate a healthy level,” Sutopo said on Friday.

Read more!

Whale and winghead sharks move step closer to extinction

Two predatory species are added to IUCN Red List of endangered species as pressure from fishing sees their populations fall by half in the last 75 years
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 8 Jul 16;

Whale sharks and winghead sharks have moved one step closer to extinction, after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) redefined them both as endangered species on the group’s ‘Red List’.

The two predatory species have fallen foul of increased pressure from human activity, especially the fishing industry, with populations of whale sharks – the world’s largest living fish – halving in the last 75 years.

Jane Smart, the director of the IUCN’s Global Species Programme said: “It is alarming to see such emblematic species slide towards extinction. The world’s oceans and forests will only continue to provide us with food and other benefits if we preserve their capacity to do so.”

Whale sharks continue to be killed by ship propellers and fishing fleets, particularly in China and Oman. Whale sharks are often present in tuna shoals, and are frequently landed by fishermen as incidental catch.

“While international whale shark trade is regulated through the species’ listing on the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), more needs to be done domestically to protect whale sharks at a national level,” said Simon Pierce, the IUCN’s lead Red List assessor.

The fast-declining Winghead shark – a species of Hammerhead – has also proved vulnerable to unregulated fishing, due to its distinctive shape which lends itself to entanglement in fishing nets.

Recent surveys of Indonesian fish markets found only one winghead shark among roughly 20,000 shark species.

The IUCN is expected to publish a full update of its Red List of threatened species at its annual world conservation congress in September.

Read more!

Borneo's orangutan sliding towards extinction: Conservationists

Channel NewsAsia 9 Jul 16;

GENEVA: Borneo's orangutan is on the verge of extinction, a top conservationist body said on Friday (Jul 8), also warning that the world's biggest fish, the whale shark, and a hammerhead shark species were endangered.

In an update to its "Red List" of threatened species, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said growing human pressure was driving the three species ever closer to destruction.

"It is alarming to see such emblematic species slide towards extinction," Jane Smart, head of IUCN's Global Species Programme, said in a statement.

The Bornean orangutan, which along with its cousin the Sumatran orangutan are Asia's only great apes, has moved from being classified as "Endangered" to "Critically Endangered" - "only one step from going extinct," IUCN said.

"As orangutans are hunted and pushed out of their habitats, losses to this slow-breeding species are enormous and will be extremely difficult to reverse," Erik Meijaard, an IUCN assessor of the species said in the statement.

Around 100,000 of these great apes are estimated to live on the island of Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, down from 288,500 in 1973 and with their numbers expected to shrink to 47,000 by 2025.

The majestic creatures have seen their habitat shrink dramatically as the island's rainforests are increasingly turned into oil palm, rubber or paper plantations.

Compounding the loss of habitat, surveys indicate 2,000 to 3,000 of the orangutans have been killed every year for the past four decades by hunters and sometimes villagers who view them as pests.

That represents a loss of as many as 66,570 individuals over a span of 40 years, IUCN said, warning that the great apes could be extinct within 50 years.

IUCN also warned that the slow-moving whale shark, which has been known to measure up to 12.65 metres, had been placed on the "Endangered" list.

The shark is fished for its meat as well as its fins which are used to make soup in some parts of Asia, but is also often caught by accident by fishermen casting nets for tuna.

IUCN said unregulated fishing was also behind the fast-falling numbers of the winghead shark, a distinctive species of hammerhead shark, which had also been moved from being considered "Near Threatened" to "Endangered".

The small brownish grey shark, which has an exceptionally large "hammer" that can be as wide as half the shark's length, is particularly prone to getting entangled in fish nets due to its shape, IUCN explained.

The group said it was difficult to estimate how many of the sharks remain, but said there is a sharp drop in the numbers turning up.

- AFP/de

Read more!