Best of our wild blogs: 10 Sep 16

Guided Walk @ Treetop Walk
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Coastal works to impact seagrass meadows at East Coast Park?
wild shores of singapore

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12 new Zika cases confirmed Friday, bringing total past 300

Channel NewsAsia 9 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Twelve new cases of locally transmitted Zika were confirmed by authorities on Friday (Sep 9), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 304.

In a joint statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said that of the 12 new cases, 10 are linked to the Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive/ Kallang Way/ Paya Lebar Way cluster and one case is linked to the Elite Terrace cluster. The other new case has no known links to any existing cluster.

As of Friday, the main cluster spanning Aljunied Crescent, Sims Drive, Kallang Way and Paya Lebar Way accounts for 252 cases - more than 80% of the locally transmitted Zika cases in Singapore.

NEA added that it is continuing with vector control operations and outreach efforts in the cluster areas at Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive/Paya Lebar Way/Kallang Way/Circuit Road/ Geylang East Central/Geylang East Avenue 1; Bedok North Avenue 2/ Bedok North Avenue 3/ Bedok North Street 3; Joo Seng Road; Bishan Street 12; Elite Terrace and Ubi Crescent.

As of Sep 8, a total of 183 breeding habitats have been found and destroyed in the cluster areas, of which 114 are from homes, and 69 from common areas or other premises.

The agency said that, as a continuation from last weekend, outreach activities supporting the Mozzie Wipeout Movement Against Zika will be held all over Singapore this weekend "to urge all residents to join in the collective effort in the fight against Zika by doing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout, removing stagnant water and not littering".

NEA added that public can obtain updated information on Zika and details on current clusters at its website.

- CNA/dt

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Tengah town to be built using smart, sustainable tech

ILIYAS JUANDA Today Online 9 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — The new Tengah town in the west will not just be a forest town, but will also be built using smart and sustainable technology.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB), which had planned Tengah to be a smart town from the start, used a simulation software to test how shifts in wind channels, solar heat and temperature will affect 3D models of the town, so that layouts of the buildings and open spaces can be optimised.

Apart from the standard suite of eco-friendly features incorporated into all new HDB projects since 2014, such as smart lighting in common areas and centralised chutes for recyclables, public housing in Tengah will also include an automated waste collection system, like the ones used in Yuhua and Punggol Northshore.

Several members of the public who visited the Tengah exhibition at HDB Hub in Toa Payoh on Friday (Sept 9) told TODAY they were interested in the upcoming town’s novel features, especially its green environment and car-free town centre.

Mr James Tan, 71, who came with his son, said he was highly interested in the town after hearing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talk about the plans for Tengah during his National Day Rally last month.

Apart from being attracted to Tengah’s abundant greenery, Mr Tan, a semi-retiree who works in the health industry, said its car-free town centre — the first in Singapore — will allow his grandchildren to roam about the area without the risk of being hit by a car.

While Mr Tan Lye Wah, 52, is interested in the concept of Tengah as a “forest town”, he said the HDB cannot expect people to be packing their bags to move to newer towns all the time.

“Especially for older people who stay in mature estates, more can be done to improve the surroundings of those towns to match what is being promised in these newer towns,” said Mr Tan, who works in the manufacturing sector.

Environmental groups told TODAY that they appreciated the effort and thought put in by the town planners in setting up the forest corridor in Tengah that will link the Western Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

“I was very pleased to hear that there will be a buffer zone for the animals to (return to) nature if they do go out of the catchment areas,” said Mr Ben Lee, founder of Nature Trekker, a nature conservation organisation.

However, he hopes that the forest or green corridor can be widened beyond 100m to give more space and security to the wildlife, especially since the Western Catchment Area, which houses rare local wildlife such as the pangolin and the leopard cat, is more vulnerable to human interference.

Mr Subaraj Rajathurai, director of Strix Wildlife Consultancy, said he is glad that surveys of Tengah are currently being carried out to study the flora and fauna before development work on the town starts.

“While we create a new settlement that can retain a large number of people, animals must also be able to continue to forage and roost in their own habitats,” he added.

Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chair of the conservation committee at Nature Society (Singapore), said the green corridor is a huge step forward in the Government’s land-use planning. However, he added, what needs to be addressed is the lack of a natural core area for displaced wildlife to seek shelter and survive, before eventually dispersing to other areas through the corridor.

Dr Ho noted that Tengah’s forest town is being largely created by planting trees along roads, which is not attractive to forest wildlife, and the proposed Central Park seems to be mainly for human recreation.

“They (the forest wildlife) are also living beings who need a home or a place in the sun,” he said.

Car-free town centre among draws of Tengah ‘forest town’
ILIYAS JUANDA Today Online 9 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Based on Tengah’s key novelty features of being a “forest town” and its projected car-free town centre, property analysts told TODAY that they expect to see a very healthy demand for homes there because of its new town-planning concepts, but the estate would hold its strongest appeal to those who already live and work in the western region.

The new Housing and Development Board (HDB) estate is part of the Government’s efforts to transform the west as a regional district, and is near developments such as the Jurong Lake District, slated to be Singapore’s second Central Business District (CBD), where the future Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail terminal will be.

The first batch of HDB flats is expected to be launched from 2018 and the town — the size of Bishan and set to be fully developed over 20 years — would have 42,000 new homes.

Propnex Realty’s chief executive Ismail Gafoor said that one group most likely to want to live there would be the newly married, the younger generation who have grown up in the area who are tech-savvy and who want to live near their parents.

ERA Realty Network’s key executive officer Eugene Lim shared similar views, saying that this group would appreciate it more than those who live farther in eastern Singapore. He added that it would be interesting to see how HDB works in smart features in its planning.

On the car-free town centre, Mr Alan Cheong, research head at Savills Singapore, said that people would be able to mingle better with “no barrier, no roads” and he wanted to see how architects would plan the layout of shops and commercial zones to enhance the experience of the town.

Prices of Tengah flats should be comparable to suburban new towns such as Punggol, the analysts said. Mr Ismail added that it was likely that Tengah flats would be “at least 20 per cent cheaper” than those in the Bidadari area, given that the latter had a more central location.

The analysts pointed out that Tengah, which lies at the borders of Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Batok and Jurong West, is still a little out-of-the-way for some, and its success in drawing buyers from non-neighbouring estates would also depend on how well the developments pan out in Jurong Innovation District and Jurong Lake District.

Ms Caroline Koh, manager (research and consultancy) at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, said that while the decentralisation of the CBD to Jurong is ongoing, it would “not be easy to convince someone living nearer downtown to move to Tengah”, especially if their workplace is in the current CBD. Mr Cheong said that relocating the workforce from the CBD would also be difficult “unless you build a new MRT line that is an express ride bypassing existing lines, from major employment nodes in the current CBD to Tengah”.

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Malaysian, Indonesian Banks Finance Most Forest Destruction in SE Asia

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 9 Sep 16;

Jakarta. A new study has found Malaysian and Indonesian banks are among the top financiers of forest degradation across Southeast Asia.

More than $38 billion worth of loan from global lenders contributed to destruction of forests in Indonesia and Malaysia between 2010 and 2015, "Forests & Finance" report reveals. The report was released by California-based environmental group Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Indonesian community rights group TuK Indonesia, and Dutch research consultancy group Profundo.

"Forest financing is murky and sometimes you just don't know where exactly the money goes – which is why we're doing this, so that we can add more transparency to the funding scheme," RAN Forest & Finance program coordinator Adelaide Glover said on Thursday (08/09).

Malaysia's Malayan Banking and CIMB are the top two financiers of forest-risk enterprises with loan values exceeding $2.5 billion each, she added.

PNB, Malaysia's biggest fund management company, and the Malaysian Employees Provident Fund for retirement planning are also financing forest-risk clients, Profundo economic and financial researcher Ward Warmerdam said.

Warmerdam said Indonesia's biggest lender by assets, Bank Mandiri, was the country's main financier of forest-risk businesses with more than $1 billion in loans. Bank Negara Indonesia and Bank Rakyat Indonesia gave loans of $678 million and $458 million respectively.

"We found that the top five financiers of palm oil companies are banks from Malaysia, Indonesia, United Kingdom, United States and Singapore – while China, Japan and Taiwan are mostly for pulp and paper," he said.

The banks' clients include Malaysian palm oil giant's Felda Group and Sime Darby and their Indonesian peers Rajawali Group, Salim Group and Wilmar Group. RAN found the companies are also linked with cases of rights abuses, deforestation and the usage of fire for land clearance.

The report also analyzed the lenders' sense of responsibility for client activities and the impact on local communities and environment.

"We assessed the policies adopted by the banks, and we found that most of them don't really care about the environment – all they care about is money," Warmerdam said.

While European banks such as the Dutch state-owned ABN Amro and Switzerland's CreditSuisse ranked highest in social and environmental consciousness, Asian banks still have a lot to work on. According to Warmerdam, some of the lenders, including Maybank, CIMB, Mandiri, BNI and BRI, do not mind financing operations in high conservation value areas and do not prohibit forced and child labor.

Regulatory reform

Rahmawati Retno Winarni, TuK Indonesia executive director, said the Financial Services Authority (OJK) is set to introduce a roadmap for sustainable finance in Indonesia in an effort to bring full transparency in the forestry industry a step closer.

She said the issue has become global as parties contributing to forest degradation and human rights abuses in Indonesia come from all over the world. Foreign governments, especially in Malaysia, Japan, China, Singapore but also Europe and United States, must also adopt sustainable finance measures, she added.

If things do not change, the banks are going to lose money through regulatory and operational risks, she predicted.

"I don't know about Indonesia, but the risk of damaging your company's reputation is problematic in the West, because it means you lose customers, which means the bank will lose money — they don't like that," Warmerdam said.

The report and list of banks involved in forest degradation is available online and will be updated quarterly.

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Indonesia: Plantations get military, police backup

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 9 Sep 16;

The involvement of police and military personnel in protecting plantations has come under scrutiny as their role may have become a stumbling block in efforts to curb forest fires.

Not only have security force personnel often been reported to side with companies in land disputes against residents, but the police have also recently terminated investigations into last year’s fires in Riau.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to evaluate the National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) conduct in relation to their support for private businesses, especially those that have violated environmental regulations.

“Corporations always use the state apparatus to ease their business, protect their concessions and evict people. We see this everywhere and we believe the situation is getting worse,” Walhi chairwoman Nur “Yaya” Hidayati told The Jakarta Post.

According to her, corporations are becoming more aggressive in resisting law enforcement and investigations into alleged illegal practices because they are backed up by the police and the military.

“We can see corporate power getting stronger. For instance, there have already been two cases of investigators from the Environment and Forestry Ministry being blocked by companies [in the course of investigations],” Yaya said.

The first case happened last year, when members of Walhi’s South Sumatra branch along with ministry staff investigated a dispute between local rubber planters and a timber plantation at Bumi Makmur village in Musirawas Regency.

As they reached the location, they saw company staff accompanied by police officers evicting people from their rubber plantations, said Walhi member Hadi Jatmiko.

When the team of investigators asked for the eviction to be halted and invited the company for discussions, company staff and the police abused the team, describing them as agents provocateurs and arrested the four members of the team, who were later beaten, according to Hadi.

Musirawas Police chief Sr. Comr. Nurhadi Handayani admitted that police had secured the location, by request of the plantation company, but denied anyone was beaten.

According to a report from the Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA), the police and the military have long been involved in agrarian conflicts, often siding with businesses. In 2015, there were 35 cases of companies committing violence, 21 cases involving the police, 16 involving the military, 10 involving other government institutions, eight cases in which gangs were involved and three cases in which local communities were responsible.

In 2014, police were responsible for most violent agrarian conflicts with 34 cases, followed by local communities with 19, companies with 12, six cases involving gangs and military involvement in five cases.

Nur described this data as ironic given that the police and the military are supposed to protect and defend the people.

TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman said the military did not allow active military personnel to work for private companies as the monitoring or protection of plantations was not the duty of the military. “There are many who work for palm oil companies as well as oil and gas companies. But they’re no longer active in the military. They resigned from the military because maybe they no longer saw a future in the career,” he told the Post.

The forestry ministry’s law enforcement director-general, Rasio Ridho Sani, also denied the involvement of police officers or TNI officials in backing up palm oil companies involved in illegally clearing land. “In the case involving PT APSL [Andika Permata Sawit Lestari], the police worked really well. When we were held hostage, the police protected us and helped us to get away from the area,” he said.

Rasio was referring to a hostage incident last week, when seven ministry officials were held hostage and threatened with death by a group of people while investigating a forest fire in Riau. (win)

National Police, KPK Team Up With Environment Ministry to End Illegal Forest Fires
Feriawan Hidayat, Fana Suparman & Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 9 Sep 16;

Jakarta. As Indonesia enters the forest fire and haze season, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has received the backing of both the National Police and the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, in preventing the environmental and diplomatic crisis which tends to follow.

“The national police force strongly supports the efforts of the ministry to handle the forest fire cases, because at the end of the day, there is a criminal element in the intentional burning of forests,” Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said on Wednesday (07/09).

He emphasized provincial and district police are not able to issue warrants to terminate forest fire investigations and that authority can only come from the National Police.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has confirmed it will continue the multi-door law enforcement approach in which the ministry handles administrative and civil-related law violations, while criminal cases will be submitted to the police.

The KPK for its part is investigating peatland and forest fires, particularly focusing on permit issuance and land conversions, after committing to forest governance in the wake of 2013's historic haze crisis.

“The commission considers the forest and land sector an important one. The KPK has signed a memorandum of understanding with 12 ministries and agencies in 2013 to monitor Indonesian forests,” Priharsa Nugraha, a spokesman for the anti-corruption agency, said.

Forest governance is essential to managing social conflict, he added, although the commission's authority is limited as it is only able to prosecute those who are found to be corrupt.

“We can only take action if companies are found to bribe their way out to get a license and permit,” he said.

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Indonesia: Heavy punishment key in fight against illegal wildlife trade -- Activist

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 9 Sep 16;

Wildlife trade will not come to an end until Indonesia’s legal system imposes heavy sentences with a deterrent effect on people who illegally hunt or trade animals, an activist has said.

Osmantri, coordinator of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Wildlife Crime Team in Riau, said tough penalties for wildlife poaching in Indonesia were few and far between, which had led to a rapid loss of species in the country.

Meanwhile, he praised the Rengat District Court, which sentenced two Sumatran tiger skin traders to four years in prison and ordered them to pay Rp 60 million (US$4,572) in fines, in a trial on Friday.

“This is the first illegal tiger skin trading case brought to justice in Riau this year. The court’s verdict meets the expectations of many people. It’s a great achievement. Hopefully, this will have a deterrent effect on other wildlife crime perpetrators,” said Osmantri.

He said few judges imposed heavy sentences for wildlife crimes in Sumatra, especially in Riau. “I hope this can serve as reference for court judges across Indonesia.”

In the past, Osmantri said, perpetrators of crimes against protected species in Riau had been sentenced to just one or two years in prison.

Based on WWF Riau data, only eight Sumatran tiger skin trading cases were brought to court so far. Four cases had been handled at the Rengat District Court, three at the Pekanbaru District Court and one at the Tembilahan District Court.

“At the Pekanbaru court, for instance, a wildlife crime suspect, who had sold two sheets of tiger skin was sentenced to less than one year in prison,” Osmantri lamented. (ebf).

Tiger-skin traders sentenced to 4 years in prison
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 9 Sep 16;

Rengat District Court’s panel of judges sentenced two Sumatran tiger skin-trading syndicate members Herman, alias Man bin Mausin, and Adrizal Rakasiwi, alias Adri, in conclusion of their trial to four years in prison on Friday.

The court also ordered them to pay Rp 60 million (US$4,572) in fines or face an additional three-month’s imprisonment.

The sentence imposed by the panel led by Wiwin Sulistya is heavier than the previous sentence sought by prosecutors.

“We, the three members of the judges' panel, are one voice in deciding this verdict. There has been no dissenting opinion,” Wiwin said on Friday.

The presiding judge further said the two convicts were proven guilty of possessing a sheet of Sumatran tiger skin and were aiming to sell it to a buyer who lived in Jambi and was now declared a fugitive of justice.

“They had agreed the Sumatran tiger skin would be sold for Rp 150 million. A team of personnel from the Riau Police, the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency [BKSDA] and the Jambi BKSDA managed to apprehend both of them at Herman’s house on April 29 before their transaction with the buyer occurred,” said Wiwin.

The judge said their crime posed a serious threat to Sumatran tigers, in which according to several witnesses who presented at their trial, only around 300 tigers still could be found in their natural habitat.

“Any sentence imposed must have a deterrent effect so that other people will think twice before they commit similar crimes in the future. Only sanctions with a deterrent effect to wildlife poachers and their syndicates could save Sumatran tigers from extinction.” (ebf)

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Hawaii attempting to fight coral bleaching threatening reefs, marine life

Audrey McAvoy, The Associated Press Global News 8 Sep 16;

KANEOHE, Hawaii – Hawaii officials on Thursday proposed a series of steps to fight coral bleaching that’s threatening the state’s reefs, including new marine protected areas, limits on fishing and controlling polluted runoff from land.

Hawaii’s ocean temperatures have been rising as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased, forcing corals to expel algae they rely on for food. Vast stretches of reef have turned white over the past two summers, increasing the risk that the coral will get sick and die. Some already have died.

It’s a serious concern for the health of the ocean because coral reefs provide habitat for fish and other marine life, scientists say.

Bruce Anderson, the state Division of Aquatic Resources administrator, said addressing polluted runoff is difficult, noting it would cost millions of dollars to create artificial wetlands that would help control runoff. Fishermen in the past have also resisted moves to limit their catch.

But Anderson said the coral bleaching crisis presents an opportunity.

“We are going to have future bleaching events, and the water is going to get warmer. And it’s going to happen again and again,” he said. “So our challenge is to prevent the impacts of bleaching as much as we can and also to help the reefs recover.”

Another idea is to ban lay gill nets that fishermen leave in the water. Anderson said these types of nets are harmful because they kill all the fish caught in them, not just the species targeted by the fisherman. The nets work because the mesh is large enough for a fish’s head to go through but too small for its body to escape.

The state will hold public meetings on its proposals before any are adopted.

Anderson said the state came up with the proposals after surveying over 80 scientists around the world about what steps are most effective at helping coral reefs.

Warmer ocean temperatures bleached coral in Kaneohe Bay off Oahu in 2014. Last year, they bleached corals off the west coast of the Big Island and off Maui.

The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii’s marine science director said he’s excited and encouraged the state is taking on the issue and that it recognizes it needs to think strategically about coral bleaching.

Eric Conklin called the proposals ambitious and noted the state will need to get feedback and input from the community. He said the proposals face a long road to approval through a public process.

“It’s really easy to say ‘the science tells us these are the best things to do.’ It’s really tricky to figure out the best way to be guided by that science but develop up a plan that still meets the needs of the people who rely on the resource,” Conklin said. “That’s the real challenge in front of us.”

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La Niña fizzles, making record warm global temperatures more likely

Andrew Freedman Yahoo News 9 Sep 16;

With stabilizing sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, climate forecasters announced Thursday that they have canceled the La Niña watch that had been in effect since April.

The diminished likelihood of a La Niña event starting this fall and lasting into the winter has ramifications far beyond the Pacific, including how the Atlantic hurricane season may evolve along with U.S. winter weather patterns.

Importantly, it also means there will not be a natural brake placed on the planet's increasing fever, fed by human-caused global warming.

La Niña events, which are characterized by cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, tend to lower global average surface temperatures.

The lack of a La Niña, or even just the presence of a weak La Niña as opposed to a strong one, means the current record-long string of hottest months may continue through the end of 2016 and into next year.

El Niño and La Niña events tend to develop in the late spring and peak during the winter.

According to the latest forecast issued Wednesday by the Climate Prediction Center and the International Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), there is just a 43 percent likelihood of a La Niña developing during August, September and October.

"Overall, the combined ocean and atmosphere system continues to reflect ENSO-Neutral," the Climate Prediction Center stated in an update on Thursday.

By November, December and January, the odds of a La Niña decrease to 39 percent, with a 57 percent probability of so-called "ENSO-neutral" conditions, meaning that there is neither an El Niño or La Niña present. Some forecasters refer to this as "La Nada."

In May, the forecast for August, September and October called for a 58 percent probability of La Niña conditions.

While sea surface temperatures (SST) in the tropical Pacific Ocean are near the threshold for a La Niña event, Emily Becker of the Climate Prediction Center wrote in a blog post that computer model forecasts show that ocean temperatures are likely to rebound and stay above the threshold.

"The second step of the La Niña conditions decision process is 'do you think the SST will stay below the threshold for the next several overlapping seasons?' For now, the answer to this question is 'no,'" she wrote.

According to Becker, La Niña conditions have failed to develop because the ocean and atmosphere failed to interact in the necessary ways to fully develop such an event.

La Niña events tend to diminish the winds at high altitudes across the tropical Atlantic Ocean, which can aid the formation of tropical storms and hurricanes. Such storms tend to sputter and die when faced with powerful upper level winds, and the expectation of a weak La Niña helped lead to forecasts of an above average hurricane season.

Coming out of a record-strong El Niño event during 2015-2016, the climate has smashed longstanding temperature records. July of this year, for example, was the warmest month since temperature records began in 1880, according to the two U.S. agencies that track global temperatures: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.

Scientists have said that while El Niño, which is characterized by above-average ocean temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean and altered weather patterns worldwide, was responsible for only a minority of that record warmth.

Instead, human-caused global warming has been the biggest player in turning up the Earth's thermostat.

If August turns out to have been the warmest such month on record, it would make it the 16th straight month to set such a milestone, which is unprecedented in NOAA's climate history.

For climate scientists, what matters is the long-term trend over decades to centuries, making monthly records much less significant compared to the steady increase in temperatures throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The long-term record shows an unmistakable upward trend in global temperatures, with warming accelerating in the oceans and atmosphere in recent decades.

For example, climate scientists have said that it is now virtually certain that 2016 will beat 2015 for the dubious distinction of the hottest year on record.

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