Best of our wild blogs: 1 Aug 16

Morning Walk At Venus Drive (30 Jul 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Pre-National Day mangrove cleanup @ LCK East – registration closes tomorrow
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) @ Sentosa
Monday Morgue

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Biodiversity thriving on artificial Punggol waterway


SINGAPORE — My Waterway@Punggol, Singapore’s longest artificial waterway and which meanders through Punggol New Town, is now home to a wider variety of wildlife species such as birds, dragonflies and crustaceans, thanks to the efforts by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to enhance greenery in the area.

Biodiversity in the area is boosted by about 20 per cent, helped by the floating wetlands and a collection of freshwater-tolerant mangrove.

Designed and engineered by a six-man team under the HDB’s Building and Research Institute, these two new environmentally sustainable innovations were implemented in phases between 2011 and 2013 along the 4.2km waterway after it was completed.

Mr Vincent Lim, senior engineer at the institute, said: “For this Punggol waterway, we saw that there are a lot of open areas within the water bodies, so we thought we could make better use of these spaces ... to see how we can intensify greenery.

These solutions, he added, were also targeted to help improve biodiversity and water quality.

The idea for the floating wetlands was chosen because it was part of an ecosystem that would attract birds and fishes while expanding the coverage of Singapore’s mangroves, which have also been part of Punggol’s natural heritage, Mr Lim said.

Inspired by the honeycomb design, the floating wetland system consists of buoyant hexagon-shaped modules that can be assembled into various shapes and sizes to form floating spaces when needed.

A platform of three to four modules can support 360kg of plants and 600kg of human weight, or that of a small maintenance crew.

Then the project team planted 15 wetland species — identified to be the most resilient — onto the floating modules, which were wrapped in coconut fibre and woven mats.

The largest floating wetlands are made up of 130 modules and are close to the size of a four-room HDB flat. These are located near the Heartwave Mall and Jewel Bridge along the waterway.

As most mangrove species are more commonly found in saline conditions such as coastal environments, HDB had to shortlist and test-bed species that could thrive in freshwater.

Young saplings of 35 species of mangrove trees — three of which are endangered native species — were then planted along the banks of a 3km stretch that covers 6,000sqm. The stretch lies near a waterfront Build-to-Order housing project called Waterway Woodcress.

Regular biodiversity surveys conducted by HDB between 2011 and 2013 recorded more than 80 bird species, nine butterfly species and 11 dragonfly species. A second two-year study was started last year and will end next year.

As of June this year, an extra 12 bird species, two more butterfly species and six more dragonfly species have been observed along the waterway. Mr Lim added that there have also been sightings of otters near the floating wetlands.

Both solutions have even helped improve the water quality of the waterway. The roots from plants on the floating wetlands act as water filters, which can remove excess nutrients in the water and allow more sunlight to stream in to form rich food sources for smaller fishes.

“If there’s algal bloom in the water, it kills the fish, and water will turn greenish in colour. Because we use this waterway for kayaking and canoeing activities, we have to consistently keep it clean,” he said.

At the same time, roots from the mangrove trees help naturally stabilise the sloping banks by binding the soil together and reducing the surface run-off of sediments and soil particles into the waterway. Mr Lim said this minimises the occurrence of algal bloom.

In a blog post published yesterday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong noted that HDB was awarded the Institution of Engineers Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award 2016 for its innovative engineering solutions at the waterway.

“We have learnt much from the engineering solutions deployed here, and will continue to do more. HDB will extend its green innovations to other new estates as well, for example in Bidadari and Tampines North,” he said.

“HDB is also exploring further uses of its floating platform system, such as to support the deployment of solar panels in our housing estates.”

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New Malaysian ‘eco-city’ development raises concerns among conservationists

Agence France-Presse South China Morning Post 31 Jul 16;

A planned multibillion-dollar new city near Singapore is attracting interest from investors with promises of luxury living but there are questions over its future owing to China’s economic woes and warnings of environmental catastrophe.

Forest City, a US$42 billion futuristic “eco-city” of high-rises and waterfront villas, will sit on four man-made islands on the Malaysian side of the Johor Strait just an hour from Singapore.

Offering 700,000 residential units as well as shopping malls, international schools, hotels, convention venues and medical facilities on 1,370 hectares, the city will even have its own immigration centre.

The venture is being developed by Hong Kong-listed real estate giant Country Garden and a firm partly owned by Johor’s powerful Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar with an eye on cashed-up Chinese buyers.

“It is by far one of the most enthusiastic private land reclamation projects I have heard of around the Southeast Asia region,” said Chua Yang Liang, head of research for Southeast Asia at property services and investment group Jones Lang Lasalle.

Officials say they have shifted 500 units in pre-selling already, despite the development not due to be completed until 2035. Sales executive Alex Lee said he had sold 10 properties in one sitting with a Chinese businessman, who paid cash.

Investors can pay anything from US$200,000 for a two-bedroom unit, up to US$1.6 million for a seaside villa.

By comparison, a mass market condominium in Singapore costs around US$740,000 – which in Forest City would buy a four-room seaside villa with a function hall, two parking lots and a large garden.

But some analysts question the project’s long-term sales targets as China’s economy struggles to break out of a growth slowdown that has seen expansion fall to 25-year lows, while authorities clamp down on a flight of cash from the country.

At the same time Standard & Poor’s said it was “cautious” about Forest City after it downgraded Country Garden’s long-term corporate rating in March to BB from BB+, citing risks from its aggressive land acquisitions.

It called sales targets “somewhat ambitious given this is a new large-scale project and targets primarily mainland [Chinese] overseas buyers”.

And even if the project is a success, campaigners say it could prove to be a disaster for the local ecology and fishermen who complain of dwindling catches.

While its website describes it as a “liveable eco-city”, environmentalists say the dumping of sand to build the new city – an estimated 162 million cubic metres – could alter tides and destroy marine life.

“It has the potential to change the ecology of the whole area in profound ways,” Greenpeace scientist Paul Johnston said.

“It might change the things that are living there, it might change the vegetation that can grow there.”

Local activists say at most risk of destruction is Malaysia’s largest intertidal seagrass meadow on Merambong shoal off Johor.

The reclamation has also ruffled feathers in Singapore, with the city-state’s environment ministry saying it is “carefully” studying an impact assessment report provided by Malaysia and is seeking further clarifications.

An environmental study commissioned by the Forest City joint venture firm, Country Garden Pacificview, acknowledged a “permanent loss of traditional fishing ground” and damage to seagrass meadows and mangroves due to the development.

But it added that this would be balanced by the project’s economic benefits, including the creation of an estimated 62,200 jobs.

Country Garden Pacificview executive director Mohamad Othman Yusof said developers were strictly following guidelines laid down by the Malaysian government to minimise the environmental impact.

He said at least 20 simulation studies were carried out before the reclamation was approved, while the project’s original size of 2,023 hectares was cut by 30 per cent and “double silt curtains” installed to prevent silt and sediment from spreading and polluting the waterway.

A subway tunnel under Singapore’s rainforest? No way, say activists

“No damage, no pollution has been exported to Singapore,” Othman said. “We don’t want to create any problems with anybody and we’re going to abide by the rules and regulations.”

Water quality is monitored closely following complaints by Malaysian fishermen, he said.

“We are very confident about the success of the islands,” said Othman.

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Malaysia: Orang utan are alive and swinging

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 1 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s critically endangered orang utan population has stabilised with the ongoing measures taken by the state government to ensure that 30% of the land remain under fully protected forest reserves.

There are were indications the number of orang utan habitats within the fully protected forest reserves had increased to 85%, said Hutan-Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme (KOCP) scientific director Dr Marc Ancrenaz.

In 2004, when the Sabah Wildlife Department together with Hutan - KOCP conducted a statewide survey of orang utans, only 40% of the orang utan habitat was within protected areas.

Today, this figure has increased to 85%, with most of these coming under areas designated as “Class I Protection Forest Reserve” by the Sabah Forestry Department, he said.

However, he stressed that Sabah was still losing orang utans due to fragmentation and isolation of populations as clearing of non-protected forest for agriculture continue to happen. Declines in populations have also been amplified due to hunting.

Orang utans, he said, were once found throughout Sabah from northern Kudat to the highlands of Keningau and on the plains of Penampang.

He added some 40,000 to 60,000 of Bornean orang utans were lost over the last 75 years across the island of Borneo and this has had a huge impact to the species as a whole.

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Indonesia: Bird flu rates rise again

Liza YosephineLiza Yosephine The Jakarta Post 31 Jul 16;

Indonesia has detected a sharp rise in bird flu cases in July since the country’s last report of an unexpected climb earlier this year, bringing the total number of the cases so far in 2016 to 188.

"The number of bird flu cases has risen in seven consecutive months since January, with the highest number of cases recorded in April, which is quite alarming. It subsequently fell from May to June, only to rise again this month," Agriculture Ministry official Muhammad Azhar said on Friday.

He made the comments when explaining the results of the government's monitoring of bird flu trend in 2016 to the audience at a poultry health and production seminar in Jakarta.

Azhar said as many as 92,014 poultry had died as a result of the bird flu virus in the last seven months. Most of them were ducks and layer poultry, which made up almost 60 percent of the total number. The remainder were quails, free-range village chicken (or ayam kampung) and broilers, he added.

Data show that the three provinces with the highest number of the cases are West Java with 65 in total, Lampung with 28 and South Sulawesi with 23 cases.

Azhar said the highest number of poultry deaths nationwide was recorded in March with 48,066 deaths, followed by 15,581 in February.

The following months saw vast improvements, with the number of poultry deaths declining to 9,860 in April and to 558 in June. However, the rates rose by more than tenfold in July, with 6,550 cases recorded, Azhar said.

Azhar noted that the rainy season, which occurred throughout the first few months of the year, might have contributed to the death of the birds, which might have been vulnerable given poor farm conditions and sanitation.

He further said that monitoring by the ministry’s officials had revealed that many farms failed to implement biosecurity measures, a framework in quality maintenance of farm and poultry products developed in collaboration with the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) more than a decade ago, after the virus was first detected in Indonesia. (ebf)

App-based monitoring system to help prevent spread of bird flu
Liza YosephineLiza Yosephine The Jakarta Post 31 Jul 16;

Farmers across the nation with small and medium-sized businesses have been urged to improve monitoring of their livestock through use of digital technology, as Indonesia continues to record more bird flu cases.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) representative office in Indonesia on Friday launched an online system, "Petelur.ID", in collaboration with the Indonesian Association of Poultry Veterinarians (ADHPI) and developers Intelligence Dynamics.

The app, which is free to use and download, aims to improve farmers' capacity while at the same time addressing rising cases of bird flu, FAO officials say.

"I believe that the use of this tool will assist farmers greatly in managing their farms, in tracking poultry health and disease and also the productivity of their layer flocks," James McGrane, Team Leader FAO Emergency Center for Transboundary Diseases (ECTAD) Indonesia, told reporters on Friday at the launch of the app.

McGrane said the functions available on the app were based on recommendations from a study conducted on the effectiveness of biosecurity interventions in order to improve productivity and the control of diseases, including highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

FAO-ECTAD national technical adviser, Erny Setiawan, said the tool would continue to be developed and could eventually become a platform for communication among farmers to share best practice and to boost communication between farmers and poultry health experts at ADHPI.

Intelligence Dynamics CEO, Dios Kurniawan revealed that the idea for the project was initiated three months ago. Data from the Agriculture Ministry reveal that the number of bird flu cases continued to rise in the first four months of the year, with 49 cases in April alone. The trend showed improvement throughout May and June, before suddenly spiking again in July.

In total, 188 cases have been recorded in 2016 so far, with as many as 92,014 poultry dying from the virus, consisting mostly of ducks and layer poultry. (ebf)

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