Best of our wild blogs: 12 Sep 16

Oval Moon Snail (Polinices mammilla) @ Tanjung Rimau, Sentosa
Monday Morgue

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The Life Interview with conservationist Ho Hua Chew: Call of the wild

Conservationist Ho Hua Chew is a part idealist, part pragmatist whose love of nature began from his childhood
Venessa Lee, Straits Times AsiaOne 12 Sep 16;

A few monkeys bound across the roof of conservationist Ho Hua Chew's house. These long-tailed macaques have come from the forest in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which lies behind his detached single-storey house in the Upper Thomson area.

Dr Ho, 70, and his wife bought their property in the 1980s because they wanted to be close to the wilderness in Singapore. They do not mind that creatures from the woods periodically spill over into their space. Once, an endangered slow loris found shelter in the sprawling bohemia plant on their garden wall.

This proximity to nature is more than literal; it reflects what Dr Ho calls a love of the land, an ethos that has sustained the former philosophy lecturer's conservation work. Over decades, he and the Nature Society (Singapore), where he serves as the vice-chairman of the conservation committee, have engaged with the authorities in a bid to curb the tide of development in Singapore and retain bio-diverse pockets of the wild.

Almost 30 years ago, he led the Nature Society (Singapore) in its efforts to conserve the bird haven Sungei Buloh, which was slated for redevelopment. It was the first time a civil society group successfully lobbied the government to change its plans.

His life's work earned him the "Outstanding Advocate of Our Time" accolade, the first award of its kind, at the Singapore Advocacy Awards last month.

Veteran activist Constance Singam, chair of civil society activist group The Working Committee 3 (TWC3), which organised the awards, says: "It takes a very long time to change attitudes. Dr Ho has been raising awareness about conservation for about 40 years. He has won the respect of both civil society and policymakers."

The award was created just for Dr Ho, says Mrs Singam, adding that his advocacy was rare when he became active in the 1980s, a period of intense urbanisation in a political climate that was "difficult" for civil society. She credits him with paving the way for other groups and movements, such as the voices raised against the planned development of the historic Bukit Brown cemetery in recent years, which concerned issues of both conservation and heritage.

Dr Ho, who quit full-time work in 1999 to dedicate his time to conservation work, could be said to have a lofty idealism. But a bureaucrat's pragmatism shines through him as well.

With competing needs in population-dense Singapore, such as housing and infrastructure, the battle for conservation is sometimes lost.

"We fight for 100 per cent; we're lucky if we get 20 per cent," says Dr Ho, who joined the nature society in 1971.

The seeds of this belief were planted in a free-roaming childhood spent exploring forests and longkangs (Malay for drains).

He was born in Kuala Lumpur, the third of five children. His late father Ho Toon Seng relocated his young family to Singapore when he found employment as a cook with a British family. Dr Ho has few memories of his mother, who died of illness when he was in primary school.

They lived in the servants' quarters in a colonial bungalow in Dalvey Estate, surrounded by woods and fields. He used to fling away his schoolbag after school and dash out, together with the gardener's son and his younger brother, Wah Loong, to explore the area.

It was the 1950s then, and the children caught spiders and climbed trees to pick rambutans. He saw cattle being herded along Bukit Timah Road, followed by flocks of egrets scrambling to devour the insects stirred by the cows. He caught a soft-shelled turtle in a longkang, the site of fishing expeditions. When he tried to take it home, it bit him and he was forced to release it.

"I would say my love of nature began and evolved from my childhood," says Dr Ho.

During the 1960s, he found national service training tough under the supervision of Israeli advisers, but marching in remote, rural areas intensified his fascination with the beauty of the Singapore countryside.

While pursuing postgraduate studies at the University of Washington with his wife, Dr Khoo Kim Choo, in the 1970s, he took up birdwatching, later joining fellow hobbyists in the Bird Group in Nature Society (Singapore) in the mid-1980s, which conducted surveys and research on bird species in Singapore.

He believes nature has value

An agnostic, he was drawn to the study of philosophy as it pondered the meaning of life. Apart from his studies for his philosophy doctorate in Washington, he read the classic nature writings of 19th-century authors such as American Aldo Leopold, who wrote about the love of the land and wilderness.

After his childhood view of exploring nature as a great adventure, Dr Ho embraced this perspective. Now a Singapore citizen, he describes it as a kind of patriotism.

"If you love nature, you'll love your land. This is your country. You love the beauty of the wildlife. Wildlife also deserves a place in the sun," he says.

He took two Master's degrees, in conservation and ecology, in Britain, to learn more about the "scientific and technical" aspects of these subjects, to aid his conservation work.

Back in Singapore, he was part of a group of birdwatchers from the Nature Society (Singapore) who initiated a proposal in December 1987 to create a nature reserve in birdlife-rich Sungei Buloh, which was originally designated by the Government for agrotechnology development.

The late president Wee Kim Wee was among the officials who visited the wetland, which officially opened in 1993 as the Sungei Buloh Nature Park. It was gazetted as a nature reserve on Jan 1, 2002.

The success of Sungei Buloh made Dr Ho feel "bold", he recalls.

Then came subsequent challenges.

In the 1990s, the government rejected an appeal, backed by 25,000 Singaporeans and coordinated by Dr Ho, to conserve 70ha of land in Senoko as a nature park.

It was the last of a series of bids to save the bird habitat in Sembawang after initial efforts to conserve all 168ha was turned down in 1994 because that would have meant a loss of 17,000 housing units.

Dr Ho recalls it was a "big blow" after spearheading the appeal and working with others to garner signatures from the public everywhere, from parks to shopping centres.

The Senoko decision played a role in his resignation from his job as a lecturer at the Department of Philosophy at National University of Singapore in 1999. He had been working at NUS since the early 1970s and has since earned what he calls "pocket money" teaching ad hoc courses in environmental and conservation issues at NUS and other tertiary institutions.

He felt he had to choose between philosophy and conservation.

"It was urgent. There was a lot of development in the 1980s and 1990s. I had to make a choice. (After Senoko) I thought, well, we have to work harder. Maybe I was a bit naive, but I have no regrets. Life became more meaningful."

His wife was supportive in becoming the family's main breadwinner. Dr Khoo, 69, is the founder of Preschool for Multiple Intelligences and a consultant for early childhood development.

She says: "We're both doing the work we love to do, but he doesn't get paid for it."

She describes her husband of more than 40 years as intense and determined. Besides his work, she recalls how Dr Ho, an avid reader, once took a road trip from Seattle, across the United States to the country's east coast to check out second-hand bookshops for his library of more than 3,000 second-hand books.

The couple have one son, Hee Juan, an IT engineer in his 40s who is married with two sons and lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Since 1999, Dr Ho has been doing conservation work full-time on behalf of the Nature Society (Singapore), which he describes as a supportive family.

Since the early 1990s, with fellow volunteers, he has been coordinating and writing detailed reports and proposals for the conservation of wildlife-supporting areas including Marina South, Kranji Marshes, Khatib Bongsu, South Simpang, Kent Ridge and Sentosa.

Coming up with surveys, monitoring wildlife and meeting with officials can be challenging, he says. The process can take decades. For example, the society's proposal to conserve the Kranji Marshes was first mooted in 1990 and the area opened to the public as the largest freshwater marshland in Singapore earlier this year. It is home to 54 species of butterflies and more than 170 species of birds, including the critically endangered straw-headed bulbul.

Dr Ho points to challenges along the way over some 25 years for the Kranji Marshes and its environs, such as the building of a transmission station and a golf course.

A frequent letter-writer to The Straits Times' Forum about conservation issues, he has spent sleepless nights worrying about the impact of the letters he writes, explaining the stand of Nature Society (Singapore).

It used to be tense in the early decades of his work when he met with government officials, he says, declining to be specific.

"I wasn't scared because I believe that what I'm doing is not political. It's something neutral. But we are affected by the tension," he says.

People warned him that if he did something that contradicted the Government's plans, there might be consequences. But he has not experienced anything adverse.

"Things are better now. Officials are getting more open, more friendly," he says, adding that concerns such as climate change have come to the forefront as well, in recent years.

Mr N. Sivasothi, 50, a biological sciences lecturer at NUS, says Dr Ho's detailed research and polite approach have paid off and inspired younger conservationists like himself. "He has a very gentlemanly demeanour about him, (yet) he is persistent. He tries to argue using information and people respond to a passionate speaker," says Mr Sivasothi.

For his part, while Dr Ho is encouraged that young people have been taking up causes such as the preservation of Bukit Brown, he feels that more focus should be given to less known areas that are unprotected, such as the biodiversity in the Tagore area.

Since stepping down as conservation committee chairman of the Nature Society (Singapore) about seven years ago, he still does research and reports.

He is modest about his accomplishments.

"I don't have a talent for administration. We're amateurs. We fumble, we struggle... I concentrate on the birdlife. If you believe in a cause, that nature has value, you just push on."

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Singapore could experience slighty hazy conditions in next few days: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 11 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: There is a possibility that Singapore could experience slightly hazy conditions in the next few days if hotspot activities increase in southern Sumatra and the winds become unfavourable, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Sunday (Sep 11).

In an advisory, NEA said the prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the south or southwest and relatively dry weather conditions are expected for southern Sumatra.

According to NEA, 28 hotspots were detected mainly in southern Sumatra on Sunday. No visible smoke plume or haze was observed in the vicinity of the hotspots, it added.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is forecast to stay in the Moderate range. As at 5pm today, the 24-hr PSI was 51-55.

Thundery showers are expected in Singapore on Monday late morning and early afternoon.

NEA added that given the air quality forecast for the next day, everyone can continue with normal activities, while those who do not feel well - especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions - should seek medical attention.

- CNA/jq

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Arctic shipping? Still a dream

ADAM MINTER Today Online 12 Sep 16;

For centuries, a harsh climate and ice-choked seas dashed the dreams of sailors attempting to cross the Canadian Northwest Passage between Asia and Europe. Now, thanks to climate change and reduced ice cover, the trip is not nearly so daunting. This month, the Crystal Serenity, a luxury cruise ship, carried a record thousand-plus passengers and crew through the passage. Next year, it will do the same.

Does this mean that the age-old vision of a time-saving, money-making Arctic passage for the world’s shippers is finally coming true? Do not bet on it.

In theory, it is a terrific idea. Travelling from Shanghai to Rotterdam via the Northwest Passage is about 3,540km shorter than going through the Panama Canal. In 2013, the Nordic Orion became the first bulk cargo carrier to traverse the passage. Bound for Finland from Vancouver, it shaved more than 1,600km — and US$200,000 (S$271,800) — off a more typical route.

Not long after, officials at China’s Polar Research Institute predicted that 5 per cent to 15 per cent of China’s international trade would use the Northeast Passage, which skirts the Russian Arctic, by 2020.

And yet, only 13 ships went through the Northwest Passage last year, and 18 through the Northeast Passage. By contrast, 13,874 ships went through the Panama Canal and 17,834 went through the Suez. That is because traversing the Arctic, even as the climate warms, still makes very little sense for shipping companies.

The first problem is a familiar one: Ice. The Arctic is warming, but it remains ice-covered most of the year. A route that cannot be accessed for months at a time is not attractive to large-scale shippers dependent on timing and reliability.

Things do not get much easier in the summer, either: Although the ice is receding, there is considerable variability in where and how it does so, rendering polar passages difficult and dangerous, no matter what the season. Worse, parts of the passage are unusually shallow, and thus can only accommodate lighter cargo.

Ice and shallow waters are more than just navigation hazards. They are also insurance risks that can take a big bite out of the potential cost savings of an Arctic voyage. The short history of shipping in the region makes risk assessment difficult, while fear of being associated with a high-profile accident makes insurers skittish.

As a result, according to one study, shippers could expect to pay an Arctic insurance premium of 50 per cent to 100 per cent, in addition to their standard policies. That path-breaking Nordic Orion voyage was almost scuttled by a lack of coverage.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the business case for Arctic shipping is weak. Major international shippers create routes with lots of intermediate stops, so a container vessel travelling from Los Angeles to Hong Kong might visit 10 ports along the way, picking up and dropping off cargo throughout Asia.

Needless to say, the Arctic is not bustling with the markets and ports needed to sustain this kind of business.

As sea ice recedes further in the years ahead, the Arctic may well become more commercially significant. It contains major oil and mineral deposits, and if extraction started in earnest, Arctic shipping would become an important factor in conveying raw material around the world.

That might not be for a while, though: Over the past two years, companies relinquished billions of dollars in drilling rights in the United States Arctic as oil prices fell. Barring a new commodities boom, it will be many years before drilling under the icy seas makes sense again. For now, at least, the Northwest Passage remains frozen to everyone but the tourists. BLOOMBERG


Adam Minter is an American writer based in Asia, where he covers politics, culture and business. He is the author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade.

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11 new cases of Zika confirmed Sunday; 10 have no known links to existing clusters

Channel NewsAsia 11 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Sunday (Sep 11) confirmed 11 new cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection in Singapore. Of these, one case is linked to the Elite Terrace cluster and the other ten cases have no known links to any existing cluster.

There are currently 329 Zika cases. Eight pregnant women have been infected with the virus, said MOH, adding that their doctors are following up closely with them to provide support and counselling.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) 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; Ubi Crescent and Jalan Raya/Circuit Road.

As of Saturday, a total of 202 breeding habitats have been found and destroyed in the cluster areas. Of which 121 are from homes, and 81 from common areas/other premises.

From Monday, NEA and MOH will be providing daily updates via NEA’s website.

Members of the public may refer to the website for updated information on the number of reported Zika cases and ongoing clusters.

- CNA/jq

14 new Zika cases confirmed Saturday; potential new cluster in Circuit Road area
Channel NewsAsia 10 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: 14 new cases of locally transmitted Zika were confirmed by authorities on Saturday (Sep 10), bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Singapore to 318.

In a joint statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said of the 14 new cases, 7 are linked to the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive/Kallang Way/Paya Lebar Way cluster. One case is linked to the cluster in Bishan St 12, while another case is linked to the Bedok North Ave 3 cluster.

MOH and NEA said in the joint statement that there is a potential new cluster involving a previously reported case, as well as a new case discovered on Saturday. Both Zika patients live in the Jalan Raya/Circuit Road area in MacPherson, authorities said, adding that the other four cases have no known links to any existing cluster.

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.

Vector control operations and outreach efforts will also be carried out at Jalan Raya/Circuit Road.

As at Sep 9, a total of 194 breeding habitats have been found and destroyed in the cluster areas, of which 117 are from homes, and 77 from common areas and other premises.

The agency said that, as a continuation from last weekend, outreach activities supporting the Mozzie Wipeout Movement Against Zika will be conducted 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 the public can obtain updated information on Zika and details on current clusters from its website.

- CNA/lc/dl

Zika awareness targeted at foreign domestic workers
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 11 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Efforts are underway to spread awareness of Zika, and how to prevent mosquito breeding, among foreign domestic workers (FDWs), who are at the frontline of the fight against the virus, with most breeding grounds found at home.

On Sunday afternoon (Sept 11), the Centre for Domestic Employees, which sets up a weekly mobile kiosk at areas where FDWs congregate, gave out pamphlets with information on Zika to FDWs at Toa Payoh Town Park.

“Our foreign domestic workers play a significant role in our households because they’re the ones who are actually the guardians of the homes, while their employers go to work,” said CDE executive director (strategy) Shamsul Kamar.

“So that’s why we feel it’s important for us to reach out to them to create this awareness, as well as teach them the five Mozzie Wipeout strategies, so they can support their employers.”

Such outreach efforts to spread the message at popular congregation areas will be stepped up, he said.

“If we’re able to help our FDWs better understand the content, they’ll be even more effective in ensuring that the households they’re working for are kept safe, and reduce mosquito breeding. Most importantly, their employers have peace of mind,” he added.

Earlier this month, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli noted that the majority of breeding sites continue to be found in homes, with the rest in common areas.

FDWs interviewed on Sunday were mostly aware of the Zika outbreak, as their employers had informed them, they said. They have also been tasked with stepping up their cleaning and checking the plants at home.

Ms Josie Sup, 29, whose employer’s residence is a landed property, said: “I even have to clean the drain outside the home now. I clean it every week because my employer told me if not, it’s risky.”

Ms Asrien Srikustinah, 38, said: “My employer would tell me to throw away any buckets of water left over from mopping. I also have to change the water in vases every morning.”

The CDE also gave an update on Sunday on its Mobile CDE initiative, which is intended to make advice relating to foreign domestic employment issues more accessible to FDWs.

It has had three sessions so far, with an outreach to 100 FDWs. It will now be deployed at congregation areas weekly, up from bi-monthly since its launch in late July.

If necessary, the Mobile CDE will reach out to FDWs during the weekdays, for instance at employment agencies where there are workers in transit or who have just arrived in Singapore, said Mr Kamar.

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Malaysia: Multinational drive against poaching

THARANYA ARUMUGAM New Straits Times 11 Sep 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: THE government will join forces with other countries to put an end to wildlife poaching and smuggling.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the authorities would beef up intelligence gathering and enhance multi-agency cooperation in their fight against the illegal ivory trade and other smuggling activities.

“As a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) Management Authority, we are aware of what comes in and out of the country.

“We support efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, especially ivory trade,” he told the New Sunday Times yesterday.
Wan Junaidi said ivory smugglers had made Malaysia one of its transit countries.

Statistics from the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) revealed that there had been 30 cases of seizures since 2011 (four cases in 2011, two in 2012, four in 2013, two in 2014, eight cases last year and 10 cases so far this year).

Wan Junaidi said most of the seizures were carried out by the Customs Department as its personnel were the frontliners at the country’s entry and exit points.

He said the ministry would seek assistance from police, army and Customs to address the issue.

“Malaysia is one of the world’s transit countries for illegal ivory trade, with its ports serving as a major gateway between Africa and Asia.

“We will enhance our intelligence capability and work with enforcement agencies to gather more information on the modus operandi of smugglers.

“We need to identify source countries, nab culprits and trace the sender and receiver of the illegal goods.”

Wan Junaidi said he would call for a meeting soon with the Customs Department and other agencies.

On measures taken by Perhilitan, he said 9.55 tonnes of confiscated ivory were destroyed on April 14 to send a message to smugglers that Malaysia did not tolerate the illegal ivory trade.

“Working with University of Washington’s Centre for Conservation Biology, Perhilitan has conducted forensic sampling to determine the origin of the seized ivory.

“We have established a wildlife forensic laboratory in our collaboration with the University of Washington and TRACE Wildlife Enforcement Network to identify organised crime related to large ivory seizures.

“We drafted and submitted the National Ivory Action Plan for Malaysia in 2013 as required by Cites, which is being implemented.”

Wan Junaidi said as border security was not under Perhilitan’s control, it would help the authorities to prevent wildlife smuggling activities.
He said Malaysia had emphasised the need for more resources, technical capacity (such as supporting forensic technology) and intelligence-sharing among National Information Assurance Partnership countries.

On Thursday, TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network had revealed that Malaysia-linked seizures involved the import, export and re-export of ivory from at least 23 countries and territories worldwide.

The high volume of ivory flowing through Malaysia’s ports had flagged it as a country of concern on a global level.

TRAFFIC said getting tough on traffickers should be a priority of national enforcement agencies.

TRAFFIC’s analysis showed that ivory seizure records from January, 2003 to May 2014 linked Malaysia to 66 confiscations worldwide totalling 63,419kg.
Its analysis revealed that only 19 of the seizures were made in Malaysia, and the remaining 47 occurred outside the country, mostly after shipments had passed undetected through Malaysia’s ports.

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Indonesia: Satellites detect 37 hotspots across Sumatra Island

Antara 11 Sep 16;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Terra and Aqua satellites of NASA detected 37 hotspots in five provinces across Sumatra Island on Sunday.

The number of hotspots increased significantly from only three on Saturday, Slamet Riyadi, spokesman of the Pakanbaru meteorology station, said.

Of the 37 hotspots, 25 were found in Bangka Belitung, six in South Sumatra, three in Lampung, two in Bengkulu, and one in Riau.

In Riau, the one hostpot was detected in Kampar District and it was not developed into a fire, he remarked.

The government has claimed that the number of forest fire cases had drastically dropped by 78 percent until August this year, compared to last year.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) had earlier instructed that action must not be delayed to put an end to fires when they were still easier to control.

The order was given to prevent a recurrence of the 2015 land and forest fires that had produced smoke chocking hundreds of thousands of Sumatran and Kalimatan inhabitants, and spreading up to Malaysia and Singapore.

The legal enforcement has also been stepped up to prevent fires intentionally set in farmland and plantation areas particularly.(*)

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Indonesia: Attempt to trade 11 protected animals foiled

Andi Hajramurni The Jakarta Post 11 Sep 16;

The South Sulawesi Police have confiscated 11 protected animals, two of which are imported peregrine falcons from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), suspected to have been illegally traded.

The nine other animals consist of eight hornbills and one Sulawesi hawk-eagle. Two of the hornbills were found dead.

The animals were confiscated from Muhammad Nurhidayat, 22, a resident of the Bumi Tamalanrea Permai residential complex in Makassar, in a raid on Thursday evening.

Adj. Sr. Comr. Kadarislam, head of the environmental resources division at the police’s special crimes investigation directorate, said the case was uncovered after the police received information from a resident concerned about the animals.

“After observing the site for several days, we found 11 protected animals, including eight hornbills. Unfortunately, two of the hornbills were already dead,” he said on Friday.

Kadarislam said Nurhidayat, who has been named a suspect, claimed he bought the hornbills and Sulawesi hawk-eagle from Pasangkayu, North Mamuju regency, West Sulawesi, paying Rp 550,000 (US$42) for each of the animals.

Nurhidayat also claimed he bought the peregrine falcons online. “The suspect said he bought the peregrine falcons from the UAE for $1,200 each. He said the animals were delivered via an air-shipping service. The falcons were anaesthetized during the delivery,” said Kadarislam.

It is suspected the animals would have been sold online. The suspect, however, has denied this, claiming he is simply a bird lover who wanted to collect the animals.

Kadarislam said the suspect was found to have traded in protected animals since December last year. (ebf)

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Indonesia: Rafflesia, corpse flowers included in conservation document

Theresia Sufa The Jakarta Post 11 Sep 16;

The parasitic flowering plant Rafflesia and a giant flower locally known as bunga bangkai (corpse flower) have become the first two plants to be included in the government’s Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (SRAK).

Experts have praised the inclusion of the two Sumatran plant species in the SRAK, given their tenuous existence in their natural habitats.

Sofi Mursidawati, a Rafflesia researcher from the Bogor Botanical Gardens, said all types of Rafflesia and corpse flowers had now been included in a 2015 regulation issued by the environment and forestry minister. It is hoped this inclusion will ensure their conservation and protection.

She said around 100 plant species in Indonesia were threatened with extinction and 75 percent of that total needed to be conserved in botanical parks. Among the critically endangered plants that must be immediately conserved include rattan manau, or Calamus manan canes, Rafflesia and corpse flowers – all of which are native to Sumatra.

“We will first focus our attention on conserving Rafflesia and corpse flowers because of the declining number of their population due to human development,” Sofi said on Friday.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya signed the SRAK, jointly developed by the ministry and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), at the beginning of this year. Initially, the SRAK was established for the conservation of endangered animals only, such as orangutans, tigers and rhinos. (ebf)

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Indonesia: Raja Ampat, home to more than 300 bird species

Otniel Tamindael Antara 11 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Besides known as an object of beautiful marine tourism, the Raja Ampat Islands District in the Indonesian province of West Papua also holds the potential wealth of outstanding land with more than 300 species of birds in its forests.

Having more than 1500 large and small islands with many of them under protecting status, Raja Ampat is famous for its unique biodiversity of both flora and fauna.

Raja Ampat, also dubbed as the "last paradise on earth," is home to a variety of unique plants and animals of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and hundreds of bird species such as the famous birds of paradise and the flightless cassowary.

The islands of Waigeo, Misol, Kofiau, Batanta, and Salawati are some of the more than 1500 islands in Raja Ampat that are rich in biodiversity of birds.

Raja Ampat District Head Abdul Faris Umlati has stated that the Flora and Fauna International (FFI) has recorded 173 bird species

in Waigeo island, 141 species in Misol islands, and more than 50 species in Kofian island.

Thus, in these three islands of Raja Ampat, more than 300 birds species have been recorded, of which, 94 including 11 endemic ones are protected.

Based on a research conducted in West Waigeo Nature Reserve, there are 27 mammal species including including bandikut (Echymipera kalubu), spotted cuscus (Phalanger maculatus), striped opossum (Dactylopsila trivirgata), bats and the tree rats.

The survey in South Misool Nature Reserve recorded 159 bird species including 4 birds of paradise and 5 bat species, and numerous protected rare birds.

There are yellow-crested white cockatoo bird (Cacatua galerita), forest kingfisher (Halcyon macleayii), julang Irian (Aceros plicatus), king parrots (Probosciger aterrimus), parrots (Eclectus roratus), red-black-headed parrot (Eclectus roratus lory), Mambruk Viktoria (Goura victoria), cassowaries, Paradisaea sp., and maleo (maleo Magrocephalus).

Once the visitors arrive in the forest of Raja Ampat, they will be greeted by these lovely birds with their lovely songs found and heard nowhere else around the world.

Also, delicately tinted wild flowers perfuming the air, along with the lofty trees of the forest with their rich foliage of living green, are found around for visitors to enjoy.

In just a moment, the lofty, trees, the buds, the flowers, and its surrounding beauty can speak to the hearts of visitors and invite them to become acquainted with Him who made them all.

There, the visitors will be amazed by the trees, the buds, the flowers, and the birds of the air as they warbled their carols of praise, unencumbered with thought of care.

Further, the hospitality of the local residents will cause the tourists visiting Raja Ampat to be amazed and curious to explore the extent to which the area is rich in both natural and marine beauty.

The abundance of undersea and land biological diversity is so stunning and has also made Raja Ampat archipelago a paradise for eco-tourism activities.

With average sea temperatures from 22 to -30 degree Celsius, the waters of Raja Ampat has approximately 603 hard coral species, representing 75 percent of total coral reefs in the world.

Based on various studies by the world natural conservation agencies like Conservation International and Nature Conservancy, Raja Ampat waters are estimated to have 1397 fish species. It is not mistaken that the waters of Raja Ampat is also called "Capital for Fish in the World".

Besides fish species in the marine waters of Raja Ampat archipelago, there are also 60 crayfish, 699 types of soft animals (species of mollusks) consisting 530 snails (Gastropoda), 159 shells (bivalva), 2 Scaphopoda, 5 squid ( Cephalopoda) and 3 Chiton.

Known as the most bio-diverse marine habitat on earth, the Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat is an ideal destination for both local and foreign tourists to relax and unwind.

The visitors to Raja Ampat will have the opportunity to witness a multitude of marine habitats and coral reefs in one glance without having to swim a stroke.

Raja Ampat comprises four large islands and hundreds of dots and specks off the fragmented western corner of the land of Papua, the worlds second-largest island.

Most visitors arrive in Raja Ampat through Sorong, a city on the far west coast of Papua, which has an airport, army barracks, and a karaoke bar called Happy Puppy.

In less than two hours from Sorong, the visitors can reach Raja Ampat, where they can indulge in activities, such as swimming, diving, and snorkeling, or just relax.

Reaching Raja Ampat has now become easier as the Bahari Express fast boat, a public transportation service, is offering rides to foreign tourists from Sorong city to visit the tourist attractions there.

In Raja Ampat, the tourists can enjoy not only the beautiful marine biodiversity but also the scenic beaches and gain local insights into the history of Raja Ampat.

In terms of historic relevance, in the 15th century, the Raja Ampat Archipelago was part of the reign of Tidore Sultanate, a great kingdom centered in Maluku Islands.

To run its government, the Sultanate of Tidore appointed four local kings to rule the islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, and Misool, which are the fourth-largest until this day.(*)

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Indonesia: Preserving biodiversity for a prosperous Papua

Fardah Antara 11 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Agirway dancers of Papua performed the exquisite Ballads of Cendrawasih (Birds of Paradise) dance, marking the opening of an International Conference on Biodiversity, Eco-Tourism and Creative Economy (ICBE), and showcasing Papuas famed biodiversity.

Indonesias easternmost island of Papua is, in fact, often referred to as the last remaining fortress of the worlds biodiversity.

Held under the theme of "Biodiversity and Ecotourism, Papua Economic Solutions", a number of countries and international institutions participated in the conference held in Jayapura from September 7-10.

Discussions also revolved around the sub theme of "Utilize Natural Resources, Increase Livelihood, Protect the Golden Generation of Papua."

An exhibition featuring 60 stands, and screening of 20 short films on Papuas culture and environment marked the conference.

The gala opening ceremony was attended by Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia Stig Traavik and diplomats from the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Papua New Guinea, among others.

Voicing high expectations, Papua Governor Lukas Enembe hoped the ICBE would boost the efforts to set up biodiversity parks and cultural parks to preserve the environment, particularly protect bird of Paradise, Papuas iconic bird.

Birds of Paradise, locally called birds of Cenderawasih, are the pride of Indonesia, particularly of Papua, whose forest is home to these birds, considered among the most beautiful in the world.

The birds of Paradise are endangered not just on account of poachers, but also because visitors seek dead and preserved ones as souvenirs.

The governor believed that preserving environment is crucial for the prosperity of Papua's indigenous people to help pull them out of backwardness and a life of poverty, ignorance and isolation.

Papuas range of biodiversity encompasses half of Indonesias mega biodiversity, particularly the endemic flora and fauna that are only found on this island.

The island, comprising West Papua and Papua Provinces, is home to some 250 tribes that retain ancient cultural traditions, and over 250 indigenous languages and dialects.

Home to the worlds remaining virgin tropical rainforests with vast biological diversity, the island is also endowed with endemic fauna such as possums, wallabies, tree-kangaroos, and endangered Long-beaked Echidna. It also has the worlds longest lizards and largest butterflies.

Its biodiversity includes 15 thousand to 20 thousand plant species (55 percent endemic), two thousand species of orchids, 602 species of birds (52 percent endemic), and 125 species of mammals (58 percent endemic), in addition to 223 species of reptiles and amphibians (35 percent endemic), 25 species of freshwater fish and 1,200 species of marine fish, as well as an estimated 150 thousand species of insects, according to the 2013 data of Papua Ecology.

Large parts of the equatorial glacier fields in the highlands remain substantially unexplored. Protected areas within Papua province include the Lorentz National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Wasur National Park, a RAMSAR wetland of international importance.

The Papua provincial administration hoped that events such as the ICBE will inspire Papua to realize a vision of prosperity, and enable it to pursue sustainable and high quality development programs.

The conference played an important role in propagating Papua as a region rich in natural resources, onshore and offshore, that must be developed in a sustainable fashion.

The governor underlined that with the support of the visionary people of Papua who have entrepreneurship skills in biodiversity, eco-tourism and creative economy, Papua and West Papua would be able to grow fast.

The provincial administration of Papua is observing 2016 as the year of investments, he recalled.

"Therefore, through this conference, I call upon all of us to work together, hand in hand, for the welfare of Papua," he exhorted.

The conference's recommendations will be crucial to Indonesias efforts to preserve its easternmost islands environment. The agreements reached during the meeting are also expected to support environmental preservation, not only in Papua or Indonesia but even globally.

Enembe remarked that the Norwegian ambassador, in cooperation with the United Nations, will assist in supervising the export of timber products from Papua to ensure these are not sourced from illegal logging activities, he noted.

In the field of tourism, Papua is particularly trying to lure tourists from Southeast Asian nations to visit the country's largest island. One of its tourist attractions is the Baliem Valley Cultural Festival that celebrates fertility and welfare of the tribal people.

The Baliem Valley is located in the central mountains of Papua. The valley, once dubbed as "Shangrila," is incredibly lush and fertile, with 2.5 thousand to three thousand meters high towering peaks surrounding it on all sides.

The Baliem Valley Festival, organized annually since 1989, is usually held in August.(*)

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Thailand finds 21 new cases of Zika in Bangkok, including pregnant woman

Channel NewsAsia 11 Sep 16;

BANGKOK: Twenty-one new cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus have been confirmed in central Bangkok, including a pregnant woman who later gave birth with no complications, Thailand's public health ministry said on Sunday (Sep 11).

Residents in the Thai capital were urged not to be alarmed after the cases were confirmed in the Sathorn area of the city, an up-market neighbourhood popular with the city's expatriate community and part of the capital's business district.

"Of the 21 cases confirmed in the Sathorn area there was one pregnant woman who recovered and gave birth successfully," Ministry of Public Health spokesman Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters by telephone.

"Mother and newborn are safe," he said, adding that the pregnant woman's husband had recently returned from Singapore.

Thailand first recorded the Zika virus in 2012 and the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority conducts regular testing for the virus.

The new Thai cases follow confirmation from Malaysia on Wednesday of its first case of the Zika virus in a pregnant woman, a 27-year-old living in a southern city next to Singapore.

Singapore reported its first locally infected Zika patient on Aug 27 and since then, the number of reported infections has swelled to more than 300.

Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized, besides other brain abnormalities.

Suwannachai said that 30 pregnant women with Zika were being monitored in Thailand. So far, six of the women had given birth without complications or any birth defects.

Sixteen out of Thailand's 76 provinces have confirmed cases of Zika since January this year, according to the health ministry, but no birth defects or deaths have been reported.

"There have been no deaths or complications so far, so I urge our brothers and sisters not to be alarmed," said Suwannachai.

Although microcephaly is typically detected during ultrasounds in the late second and early third trimester of pregnancy, it can be detected as early as 18-20 weeks gestation, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Richard Pullin)

- Reuters/mz

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Australia: Video shows Agincourt Reef off Port Douglas thriving

Alicia Nally, The Cairns Post 12 Sep 16;

A NEW video has shown one of the Far North’s most popular reefs has almost fully recovered from what was described as the worst coral bleaching event in recent history.

Quicksilver Group’s environment and compliance manager and marine biologist Doug Baird said coral on Agincourt Reef number 3 was “well in the process recovery” from a bleaching event six months ago.

“It was a very robust reef going into the bleaching event. It was healthy, the water quality was good out here,” he said.

“In fact, it was the best managed reef system anywhere on the planet. This builds up resilience of the reef which gives it that opportunity­ under these natural events to actually cope and recover.”

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority tourism and stewardship director Dr Roger Beeden said he was aware of reports Agincourt Reef coral was recovering. He said in-water surveys in October would enable scientists to closely assess recovery and survival rates across the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“The extent of recovery for heat-affected corals will vary across the marine park, and will largely depend on how stressed the corals were locally.

“On the most resilient reefs and in ideal circumstances, bleached corals can regain their colour within a period of weeks to months once water temperatures return to normal. However, corals experiencing chronic poor water quality or other stressors are unlikely to recover within these short time frames and recovery will be impeded.”

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Hungry for power, Myanmar bets on hydro in new energy plan

Channel NewsAsia 12 Sep 16;

YANGON: Electricity-starved Myanmar is looking to overhaul its long-term power strategy, aiming to hike the planned share of hydropower in its energy mix at the cost of polluting coal as it tries to attract foreign investment.

The new democratically-elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has made job creation one of its top priorities in what is Asia's sixth-poorest country. However, with half of its people without access to electricity and major cities experiencing blackouts, finding investors is tough. Even tougher is getting them to back coal-fired plants given environmental concerns.

Myanmar's initial plan was to boost coal's share to a third by the end of the next decade from just 3 percent now and to slash the contribution of hydro to 38 percent from 63 percent, according to the plan shown to Reuters by officials at the Ministry of Electricity and Energy.

But most people are "reluctant to implement coal-fired power plants, that's why we won't be able to implement the planned coal power plant projects," said Aung Ko Ko, director of hydro and renewable energy planning branch at the ministry.

"Hopefully hydropower will be the majority in the new plan," he said, estimating its share at 50-55 percent by 2030-31. Imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) could make up for some of the drop in coal use, Aung Ko Ko added.

Nine key ministries, including energy, industry and mining, have met in the capital of Naypyitaw to coordinate their energy strategy with the aim to have a draft master plan ready by the end of the month, and under scrutiny are 49 hydropower projects approved by the previous government.

Myanmar is reviewing these to see how quickly - if at all -they can be completed, how many more would be needed and how to secure funds, as it seeks to boost its power capacity to make the most of an unprecedented economic revival after 49 years of military rule that ended in 2011 and to sustain an economic growth rate of about 8 percent - one of the world's fastest.

"The new government realizes these projects should be prioritised. She (Suu Kyi) allowed us to talk with potential international lending facilities like the ADB," a senior official at the department of hydropower implementation of the Ministry of Electricity and Energy said, referring to the Japan and U.S.-led Asia Development Bank.

Several dams and power plants in Myanmar have until 2011 been financed by China and, while the West has since shown eagerness to provide financing for electricity projects in the country in a bid to increase its influence there, experts say shifting away from Beijing will not be easy.


Of the projects under review, some 31 include Chinese investment and involve 11 Chinese companies. It lists names such as Beijing-based conglomerate Hanergy Holding Group Ltd and state-owned CPI Yunnan International Power Investment Co that is behind the controversial US$3.6-billion Myitsone megadam project.

The 2011 cancellation of the Myitsone remains a sore point between the two countries. Myanmar suspended the project citing environmental worries, but the decision was also seen as an attempt to distance itself from Beijing, an uncertainty that has stymied subsequent investment decisions.

China has been asking to restart Myitsone, and finding a solution is crucial for Suu Kyi as she needs China's help in talks with ethnic minority armed groups, many of whom operate on the border between the two countries. A resolution could also help unlock more Chinese funds.

"In my opinion, the developers of these projects (on the list) cannot get loans from Chinese banks because of the problems with Myitsone," said the energy ministry official at the department of hydropower implementation.

Five projects on the list that are sponsored from Myanmar's budget have faced delays because the country does not have enough money to finance them, the official said. Seven others are being built by local firms. The rest will need to be financed by cooperation with foreign investors.

For some of the long-stalled hydropower projects, Myanmar may open fresh tenders and seek loans from international lending facilities, the official said, adding that the World Bank and ADB, among others, were interested in supporting electricity and energy projects in the country.

The private-sector lending arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), is reluctant to finance coal projects because of environmental concerns, said Vikram Kumar, who heads the IFC's operation in Myanmar.

As of now, power consumption in Myanmar is one of the lowest in the world. Its per capita use averaged 164 kilowatt hour in 2013, according to the World Bank, the 11th lowest in the world and roughly on par with Sudan and Togo.

"We need investment from abroad ... so many factors, so many risks, so many transactional challenges faced by the foreign investor - JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), IFC, World Bank and ADB have asked the government how to optimize and overcome these challenges," said Aung Ko Ko.

"But the government is very new and they need time to optimize the power sector development."

(Additional reporting by Yimou Lee and Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

- Reuters

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