A peek into underwater wonderland

The waters around Singapore may be murky but they teem with colourful life
Audrey Tan Straits Times 30 Jul 16;

Singapore is known for being a Garden City and it lives up to its name - both on land and underwater.

Colourful coral colonies can be found blooming in the waters off the Republic's southern coast, providing refuge for animals such as butterfly fish, nudibranchs (sea slugs) and even sea turtles.

Many may find this hard to believe, considering how murky the waters surrounding the country are - a far cry from the crystal clear waters of popular beach destinations such as the Maldives, or Tioman in Malaysia.

Yet last year, scientists here made two whale-related finds. In July, a whole carcass of a female sperm whale was found floating off Jurong Island. Later that year in November, a sperm whale tooth was found in a lagoon within the Sisters' Islands Marine Park.

It is not clear how the whale or the tooth came to Singapore, but finds like these show that when it comes to the marine life here, out of sight should not be out of mind.

Here is how you can learn more about Singapore's thriving marine life.


The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, located within the National University of Singapore (NUS) in Clementi, will enthral both divers and non-divers alike.

Other than learning more about Jubi Lee - the whale which washed up in Jurong last July - visitors to the museum also get the rare chance to gaze upon a specimen of the Neptune's cup sponge, an animal thought to be globally extinct since the early 1900s.

In 2011, the wine glass-shaped sponge - which can grow large enough for a child to sit on - was rediscovered off St John's Island, south of mainland Singapore. Scientists spotted another specimen here in 2014, and its location is being kept under wraps - not surprising, considering the sponge was driven to extinction due to overfishing.

The museum's specimen is housed in its Marine Cycles Zone, where guests can view other interesting marine specimens, such as sea stars.

For a geographical perspective, pay attention to a map depicting the location of the Coral Triangle - an area widely considered the world's richest underwater wilderness - which sits just south of Singapore.

Tickets to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum can be bought at the door - at $16 for adult Singapore residents, and $9 for children. For more details, go to lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg.


It may sometimes be difficult to see past an outstretched arm, but those certified to scuba-dive should take a leap of faith and hop off a dive boat.

Many dive companies here organise dive trips to sites such as Pulau Hantu every weekend.

It is also possible to dive at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park - Singapore's first and only marine park. The National Parks Board (NParks) last year launched two dive trails - one shallow, one deep - there to encourage greater appreciation of Singapore's marine treasures.

The trails have 20 underwater markers - 10 on each - which tell divers where to look for marine life. Station Four of the Shallow Dive Trail, for example, says a live giant clam is nearby, while Station Two of the Deep Dive Trail alerts divers to the variety of sea fans and sea whips. From first-hand experience, the ropes that mark the length of the trail are also useful visual tools for navigation.

Unlike the Pulau Hantu dive site, which is accessible all year round, this is not possible at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park as currents may not be suitable for diving at times. NParks will make available dive windows based on this and the conditions of the marine habitat. This is estimated to be two to four days a month.

To protect marine biodiversity and avoid overcrowding, NParks has imposed a cap of eight divers on each of the two dive trails at the park at any given time.

The trips are conducted by six approved dive operators, who offer packages priced at different rates, depending on the type of package and the services offered.

Divers who wish to explore these trails must have at least 20 dives, with one local dive experience within the past two years.

Those interested can find out more at www.nparks.gov.sg.


For non-divers who want to learn about Singapore's marine life by going out and about, there are options which do not require the donning of a wetsuit.

NParks and marine conservation groups conduct free guided walks to various intertidal areas - places which are not submerged during low tide.

NParks conducts walks at the intertidal area of the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, where visitors can expect to see anemone shrimps and seahorses. For more information, visit www.nparks.gov.sg.

Marine life also thrives in other parts of Singapore. The northern coast, for example, is characterised by mangroves, mudflats and sandy shores, and these habitats are home to a rich diversity of species.

Volunteer groups like the Naked Hermit Crabs conduct free guided walks to places such as the Pasir Ris Mangroves or the Chek Jawa wetlands in Pulau Ubin. Details can be found at nakedhermitcrabs.blogspot.sg.

Although they may not look it, the waters around Singapore are home to a surprising amount of marine life. More than 250 species of hard corals - representing more than 30 per cent of hard coral species found around the world - have been recorded here. In addition, it has 12 of the 23 species of seagrasses in the Indo-Pacific region, about 200 species of sponges and over 100 species of reef fish.

So the next time you have the opportunity, take a peek into our waters. You may find that the biodiversity on our shores is worth protecting.

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Malaysian tigers becoming extinct, minister calls for greater public awareness

BERNAMA New Straits Times 29 Jul 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Only about 240 to 350 tigers are still living in the main habitats in Malaysia, according to a survey conducted by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN).

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the survey was conducted from 2010 till 2013 in the Endau Rompin and Belum Temenggor National Parks.

He said there must be greater public awareness about the efforts to conserve tigers in this country, especially among youths.

“The perception of the older generation about the benefits and medicinal values of tiger body parts must be eliminated and there must be greater awareness of conservation issues concerning wildlife, especially tigers,” he said in a statement here today.

Wan Junaidi said the government had also renewed its commitment in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which aimed to combat and end illegal hunting and smuggling of wildlife.

As a commitment to increasing the number of wild tigers, he said the government had introduced the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan 2008-2020.

He added that among the strategies which have been identified included habitat and species protection, research and conflict management.

“The government has also allocated RM18.7 million for the 1st National Tiger Survey which covers tiger habitats in Central Forest Spine (CFS) jungles,” he said.

Wan Junaidi also said the government would continue with its commitment in taking steps to combat crimes involving cross-border wildlife crimes with collaborations between national and international agencies.

Each year, July 29 is the date for the celebration of the International Tiger Day which is aimed at fostering awareness of tiger conservation throughout the world The annual event was announced in 2010 through an agreement between 13 “tiger range states” at the Global Tiger Summit in St Petersburg, Russia.

This year, the theme for the World Tiger Day is ‘Giving Wild Tigers a Future“, which mirrors the need for every level of society to play a part in ensuring that wild tigers flourish in their natural habitat and stop their extinction. --BERNAMA

Ministry aims to debunk myths to save tigers
The Star 30 Jul 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The Natural Resour­ces and Environment Ministry is on a mission – to debunk myths – so that the killing of endangered species, including tigers, will come to a stop.

Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the dwindling tiger population worldwide, including in Malaysia, was due to loss of habitat, illegal poaching and trade, as well as man-tiger conflict.

“And it also doesn’t help that there are superstitions on the advantages and benefits of eating tiger meat or other exotic meat.

“There is a need to create public awareness, especially among the young, on the importance of preserving tigers.

“We must tell them that there is no truth behind these myths,” he said during a gathering to comme­morate his first year in office, which also coincided with Interna­tional Tiger Day, on July 29 every year.

Dr Wan Junaidi said correcting misconception that consuming exo­tic meat had benefits would help to bring down the number or even stop wild animals from being killed.

According to a survey conducted by the Wildlife and National Parks Department, there are three main areas where tigers roam – Taman Negara in Pahang, Endau-Rompin National Park and Belum, Perak.Between 2010 and 2013, some 240 to 350 tigers were found in these areas.

“Our activities and what we do has effect on the environment and wildlife. We must not be excessive in our action and consider other living beings in our surroundings,” said Dr Wan Junaidi.

The Government’s commitment to preserve tigers was reflected in the introduction of a national tiger conservation action plan which identified several strategies, including protecting its habitat and species, research and conflict management.

A sum of RM18.7mil had been allocated under the 11th Malaysia Plan to conduct the first national tiger survey.

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Malaysia: Sabah can ban shark hunting

NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 30 Jul 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Seven new types of sharks and rays will be included in the endangered species list of the Fisheries Act but the rest of Malaysia’s 67 shark species are still free to be caught and consumed.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek also announced that Sabah was free to totally ban shark hunting if the state government so wished.

This comes amid mounting pressure from international and Malaysian conservationists and even from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the Sabah government to amend the Fisheries Act to totally ban shark hunting.

In an interview yesterday, Ahmad Shabery said Sabah would have to revise its own laws to ban shark hunting but federal regulations on sharks would remain the same.

He also explained that out of the 67 shark species, of which 48 could be found in Sabah waters, only two were considered endangered - the whale shark and the sawfish.

The ministry plans to gazette the oceanic white tip shark, four hammerhead shark species, the giant oceanic manta ray and the reef manta ray as endangered species, too.

“Not all sharks are endangered. They try to generalise sharks but there are 67 types. These are common species that you can see in the market every day, so you cannot generalise sharks as a whole.

“I agree that endangered species have to be protected. If Sabah wants a total ban on shark hunting, they have the right to do so. There is no problem with us. We don’t get the profit, only Sabah,” he said.

Sabah’s Fisheries Department exists separately from the Federal Government’s jurisdiction, he said, making it possible for the state to enact its own laws on shark hun­ting.

“But to have a blanket ban on all sharks under the Fisheries Act, that is not possible.

“ It’s not to say I don’t love sharks. Because if you want to do total banning, it has to fit international standards,” he said, explaining that total protection on an apex predator could lead to an ecological imbalance in marine life.

Ahmad Shabery disagreed with shark conservationists who claimed that 80% of Malaysia’s shark population had depleted since 1989, saying that studies were being done to sustainably manage the population – though no results can be announced yet.

According to ministry statistics, shark products make up 0.1% of Malaysia’s total fisheries output with 1,466 metric tonnes to the 1.45 million metric tonnes of seafood caught from 2008 to 2014.

According to wildlife conservation group TRAFFIC, Malaysia ranked 10 in the world for shark hunting, behind countries Indonesia, India, Mexico, Taiwan, the United States and Japan.

On Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar’s proposal to have sharks protected under a planned Protected Marine Animals Act, Ahmad Shabery said discussions were ongoing.

“I don’t want people to think there is a clash between two ministries. That is not the way we work. We will iron out between us,” he said.

‘Shark finning may not be banned’
RUBEN SARIO The Star 2 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: A move by Sabah to pass its own law banning the hunting and finning of sharks, may see the enactment being challenged, said the Federal Government.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said there was a possibility that such a state law would be rendered ineffective.

“Our officers are studying the relevant laws, taking into account that federal law is supreme,” he told The Star yesterday.

“The state can only enact its own law if such legislation does not contradict with any existing provision in the Federal Fisheries Act that is currently enforced in Sabah.”

Masidi said that no state law to ban shark hunting and finning could stand up in court if it overrides provisions in the Fisheries Act which does not make such actions an offence.

“The reason is simple. Federal law takes precedence over state law.

“Any person charged under state law could apply for a court declaration that the state law is void because it goes against the provisions of a federal law,” Masidi said.

“The Fisheries Act needs to be amended to allow Sabah to enact its own law against shark finning.”

He added that Sabah could be excluded from certain provisions of the Act that would allow it to enact its own law.

There is mounting pressure from international and local conservationists on the Sabah government to amend the Fisheries Act to ban shark hunting and finning.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, however, saw amendements to the Act as unnecessary.

He had said that Sabah was free to amend its state laws to ban shark hunting, but federal regulations would remain.

The state Fisheries Department was outside the Federal Government’s jurisdiction, making it possible for the state to enact its own law on shark hun­ting, he said.

Ahmad Shabery had also said that out of the 67 shark species, of which 48 could be found in Sabah waters, only two were considered endangered – whale shark and sawfish.

Stricter laws needed to protect Sabah sharks, rays
ROY GOH New Straits Times 4 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Effective legislation on the capture and consumption of sharks and rays in Sabah must be formulated to protect the species.

In welcoming the announcement that Sabah has the authority to ban shark hunting, the Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) today said a constructive way forward is needed amidst national and international attention on the issue.

“We are asking the Federal and State governments to make changes to the Fisheries Act that may be necessary to enable Sabah to pass the desired State level legislation,” SSPA chairman Aderick Chong said in a statement.

“Since the federal Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry has already announced that Sabah can enact our own laws to ban shark hunting to protect sharks in Sabah, SSPA urges the state Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry to take action on the federal minister's nod on protecting sharks.

“Outside of Sabah Parks Marine Protected Areas or shark sanctuaries, the state ministry under Datuk Seri Yahya Hussin can consider to put in place a ban on shark landing, slaughtering and trading of Sabah's already depleted reef sharks and CITES listed endangered species,” he added.

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments.

SSPA was reacting to the response by Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun that if the State enacted its own laws to ban the hunting and finning of sharks, it may result in the local legislation being challenged.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek had recently announced that Sabah has the authority to ban shark hunting.

Masidi had said Sabah could only enact its own law if such legislation does not conflict with any existing provision in the Federal Fisheries Act that is currently enforced in the State.

SSPA also views positively the proposal by Federal Natural Resource and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar to list sharks under a planned Protected Marine Animals Act pending the ironing out of technicalities between the two ministries, and between Federal and State authorities.

Shark Stewards Director David McGuire said ocean conservationists around the globe applaud the leadership of the Sabah and Federal governments for creating a solution that benefits sharks and ocean health.

Shark Stewards is one of eight SSPA members, the others being Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS), Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC) and WWF-Malaysia.

LEAP Executive Director Cynthia Ong meanwhile said new or amended laws need to be coupled with efforts to help shark fishermen find alternative sources of livelihood and a meaningful stake in the diving and ecotourism sector.

In recent years there has been a big change in public attitudes to sharks and shark fin soup in Sabah, with awareness raising reaching the point where there is a general call for action.

Fresh photos of sharks being finned on Pulau Mabul in Semporna were splashed all over the media in recent weeks, increasing the pressure on the Federal government to make a stand in relation to Sabah wanting protection for sharks, a matter the State has repeatedly raised.

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Indonesia on Global Tiger Day: Only 371 Sumatran Tigers Left in the Wild

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 29 Jul 16;

Jakarta. The Indonesian arm of international environmental conservation agency, World Wildlife Fund, has revealed that there are only 371 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, or less than 10 percent of the total number of tigers left in existence.

“This is an important reminder to us all that our [Sumatran] tigers are severely at risk of extinction. Before this, we had 3 species of tigers in Indonesia, two of which are already extinct – the Balinese tiger and Javanese tiger,” Nyoman Iswarayoga, WWF Indonesia director of communication and advocacy, said on Friday (29/07).

According to Nyoman, the critically endangered Sumatran tiger is the only species left in Indonesia and is at constant risk of the illegal wildlife trade and hunting and is suffering from habitat loss due to the loss of forest coverage around Sumatra.

Rasio Ridho Sani, the director general for law enforcement at the Environment Ministry, explained that conserving the environment — especially Indonesia’s forests — is imperative to the protection of tigers.

“By protecting our tigers, we will also protect our forests and if our forests are gone the tigers will be too,” Rasio said.

Rasio further contended that by protecting the environment, it will help secure Indonesia’s natural resources which can be used as a source of medicine and food for future generations.

“The future of the world lies in the hands of Indonesia,” he added.

Rasio said that the risk of extinction of protected wildlife — including tigers and fauna — has seen an increase every year, while he shared that his team is in talks of revising the current laws on environmental crimes.

“Our idea is to impose criminal sanctions on perpetrators for crimes against wildlife such as prison terms or fines, especially [when they involve] protected wildlife so that it will have a deterrent effect,” Rasio said.

The director general emphasized the importance of awareness through education as many are still unaware that preserving wildlife is important for people's livelihood and maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

However, Rasio did note that awareness of the importance of wildlife protection has improved over the years.

“[Wildlife protection] has improved, but it hasn't been easy. We must continue to teach people that buying products that use protected wildlife parts is illegal and that a heavy penalty awaits if they are caught [contributing to] the crime,” Rasio said.

Global Tiger Day is celebrated worldwide on July 29.

Consumers urged to use green products to save tigers
Jakarta Post 1 Aug 16;

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the World Wild Life Fund (WWF) have urged Indonesian consumers to be more aware of products containing palm oil, as the expansion of oil palm plantations has affected the critically endangered status of Sumatran tigers.

The purchase of palm oil-based products from sustainable sources could indirectly have a strong impact on the preservation of Sumatran tigers, RSPO Indonesia director Tiur Rumondang said in a discussion on Sunday aimed at educating the public on the connection between their consumption behavior and the tiger population.

“The current challenge faced by Indonesia is not only low consumer awareness but also a lack of responsibility and collaboration from industry players to ensure that the products they produce are made from sustainable palm oil,”
she said.

Among indicators of a sustainable product is certification by the RSPO.

“Under RSPO’s sustainable palm oil scheme, members are obliged to protect the high conservation value in their plantation management, including protecting rare, threatened or endangered species and high conservation value habitats,” she said, adding that only 33 companies in Indonesia had been certified by the RSPO.

The RSPO, which has earned worldwide acknowledgement, is a voluntary based organization. It only imposes certification on registered companies that want to compete in the global market, because the certification is believed to be a condition demanded by the international marketplace.

Tiar said if consumers demanded sustainable products, more companies would be willing to follow the standardization.

“We have to build a habit within a society, which always questions whether any food or product we purchase is harmful to the environment,” she said.

The WWF celebrated World Tiger Day on Friday, bringing attention to the critically endangered status of the species.

The organization revealed there were only 371 wild Sumatran tigers left in the world.

The forest director for Sumatra and Kalimantan with the WWF Indonesia representative office, Anwar Purwoto, said the number had significantly decreased in the last 25 years and the species may face extinction in the next five years if necessary action was not taken.

He went on to say that 70 percent of remaining Sumatran tigers lived outside their habitats because their habitants had been gradually transformed, including into oil palm plantations.

“It’s more dangerous when the tigers live outside their natural habitats because it may lead to conflict with nearby residents. Among reasons for the disappearance of the animals are conflicts with residents and of course, poachers,” Anwar said.

Anwar acknowledged that palm oil had become the flagship commodity of Indonesia due to high export and absorption of manpower.

Together with neighboring country Malaysia, Indonesia has become a main player in supplying almost 85 percent of global demand.

The government has also aims to produce 40 million tons of crude palm oil (CPO) annually by 2020, from 32 million tons per annum currently.

Of the current amount, only around six million tons of CPO is RSPO-certified.

Anwar opined that existing oil palm land was adequate to meet the country’s target, claiming that the use of high quality seeds would enable companies to optimize production capacity. He also added that farmers needed to ensure that the fruit did not go to waste during harvest. (fac)

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Indonesia: Environmental group challenges reclamation project in South Sulawesi

Andi Hajramurni The Jakarta Post 29 Jul 16;

Local residents and activists will continue to challenge land reclamation around Losari Beach, South Sulawesi, after a court rejected a lawsuit against the issuance of a permit for the project.

“The panel of judges did not have an environmental perspective,” Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) executive director Nur Hidayati said after a hearing on Thursday.

She emphasized that Walhi did not talk about the direct impacts from the reclamation project, but the long-term impacts in the future.

The Makassar State Administrative Court (PTUN) on Thursday turned down a lawsuit filed by Walhi against the South Sulawesi governor for the issuance of the permit to reclaim areas on the province’s famous waterfront, to be developed into residential and commercial areas.

Presiding judge Tedi Romyadi said the permit granted to PT Yasmin Bumi Asri would not cause pollution or damage the environment around the site, as claimed by Walhi. The lawsuit, therefore, was considered formally flawed.

“[The panel of judges] declares the lawsuit was not accepted and the plaintiff has to pay court expenses of Rp 2,963,500 [US$225.23],” said Tedi, who is also head of the Makassar State Administrative Court.

One member of the judging panel, Joko Setiono, had a dissenting opinion.

In its lawsuit, Walhi said the permit issued by the governor on Nov. 1, 2013 for the reclamation project would trigger pollution and environmental damage in the reclaimed area, including to the ecosystem, coral

“Before the reclamation, the environment in the area, including the coral reefs, was already severely damaged.”

The reclamation permit was initially granted to PT Yasmin Bumi Asri but last year part of the area, spanning around 100 hectares, was handed over to Ciputra Surya Tbk. for the development of a business center, hotel and luxury residential complex.

The remaining 57 ha were handed over to the South Sulawesi administration for the development of the Center Point of Indonesia (CPI), comprising a state guesthouse, convention building and open
green area.

Citing an explanation from an expert witness during trial, Tedi said environmental damage had been done before the reclamation occurred.

“Before the reclamation, the environment in the area, including the coral reefs, was already severely damaged,” said Tedi, adding that according to the expert witness, there was no mangrove forest at that time but only some mangrove trees.

He added that of the 157 ha area, some 20 ha had been reclaimed, saying the reclamation had not polluted the area.

Walhi promptly rejected the ruling and said it would appeal to the South Sulawesi State Administrative High Court.

The group also expressed its objection to the panel of judges, who left the courtroom immediately after reading out the verdict, without providing the plaintiff or its lawyer a chance to respond.

Nur Hidayati said the lawsuit was filed because the environment had to be preserved and grassroots communities, especially in coastal areas, had to be given space.

Hundreds of people from coastal areas around the reclaimed location who attended the trial similarly rejected the court’s ruling. They expressed support for Walhi to continue with the lawsuit.

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