Best of our wild blogs: 15 Sep 16

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News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Magical lantern walk in Ubin mangroves
wild shores of singapore

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Keeping Changi's bumboats afloat

Marcus Tan Straits Times 15 Sep 16;

Washed in Ubin's mangroves and drying in the sun are wooden bumboats from the Changi Ferry Terminal. They are brought here at least three times a year to get barnacles scraped off their bodies and for a fresh coat of paint.

Running this quaint repair boatyard is 72-year-old Choo Seng Sim, who has been in the business for more than 20 years.

The former cruise service operator started repairing boats in Punggol in 1994.

He moved to Pulau Ubin in 1998, operating from a shack on the beach next to the island's jetty. But it was not long before he moved inland, after stalls complained that the strong smell of paint used for repair works was affecting their businesses.

The Bumboat People

Now settled along Sungei Jelutong, located in the south of Pulau Ubin, Mr Choo's boatyard has been issued a temporary occupation licence. A new licence is issued on a yearly basis and he will be able to operate at the site until an alternative space is provided elsewhere on the island in a few years' time.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong announced in June that the National Parks Board (NParks) will take over as the central managing agency for Pulau Ubin. Previously, Pulau Ubin was managed by 12 agencies with technical and land ownership responsibilities. The handover is being conducted in phases and is expected to be completed by mid-2017.

The boatyard offers the local bumboat operators a convenient and cheaper alternative for boat repair, as "it is a hassle to travel to Tuas", Mr Yang Soon Tong, a ferry operator in Changi explained. The 45- year-old, who took over his father's boat 15 years ago as a ferry operator, added: "The maintenance fee for the boats is not cheap and we don't earn much."

Many of the ferry operators in Changi are unwilling to go to other boatyards to repair their vessels. It is a five to six-hour boat ride to the ones in Jurong. According to Mr Choo, it would also cost them double what he charges, which is approximately $500 per repair. "Unless we are forced to a point where we have no choice, we will not go to Jurong," said Mr Yang.

The services offered at Mr Choo'sboatyard include scraping barnacles off the boats and painting and repairing holes caused by collisions. The boatyard is operated by two local workers and a caretaker. A repair job takes about a day to complete, and ferry operators have to book the services a month in advance.

Changi ferry operators worry that Mr Choo will have to stop working some day. He has no successor. Married with five children, he does not see any of them taking over his business, although his younger brother, aged 60, occasionally helps him manage the boatyard.

The ferry operators hope someone will take over when Mr Choo retires. "If there are people willing to wash the boats, we can still survive," said Mr Yang. Mr Choo said that he would continue working for as long as he could. "I can't retire unless I die," he joked.

The future of Mr Choo's boatyard is uncertain, but ferry operators hope that such a traditional, artisanal business can be preserved for the bumboat community in Changi. "For the sake of this ferry terminal, a space on Ubin should be left for bumboat repairs," said Mr Kit Kau Chye, 68, who has had more than 50 years of experience out at sea.

They might be cheered by this assurance from the authorities. "(NParks) will work with the relevant agencies to help Mr Choo continue his boat repair operations," said Mr Wong Tuan Wah, NParks' director of conservation.

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Singapore's water supply 'still at the mercy of the weather': PM Lee

Channel NewsAsia 14 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Use water wisely, as Singapore's water supply is "still at the mercy of the weather", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Sep 14).

In the post, Mr Lee showed a picture of the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor at 25 per cent capacity, which he took on his way to China two weeks ago, due to several years of low rainfall. He juxtaposed it with an image of the same reservoir when full.

"The difference is stark, and worrying," he wrote.

The water levels at the reservoir dropped to a historic low of 35 per cent in April this year.

The water level at Linggiu Reservoir directly affects the amount of water Singapore can draw from the Johor River. Under the 1962 agreement which lasts until 2061, Singapore has full and exclusive right to draw up to 250 million gallons of water daily from the Johor River at the price of 3 sen per 1,000 gallons. The river supplies about half of Singapore's water needs.

Mr Lee said Singapore is "fortunate" to be sheltered from many natural disasters, but its water supply is "still at the mercy of the weather".

He added that Singapore's four "National Taps" - water from local catchment , imported water, reclaimed water or NEWater, and desalinated water - have mitigated the situation, but Singaporeans must still do all they can to conserve water.

"Use water wisely, avoid waste, and recycle wherever possible," he stressed.

- CNA/kk

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How Johor’s growing water woes could affect Singapore


Since its founding, Singapore has depended on water imports from neighbouring catchments in Johor, Malaysia, through agreements reached in 1961 and 1962.

Over time, Singapore improved its domestic catchment management, created more efficient water-use systems, and brought desalination capacity online. Meanwhile, Johor has transformed itself into a bustling hub second in many ways only to Malaysia’s capital region. These developments have created a new water calculus between Singapore and Malaysia.

Since early 2015, drought, pollution and large discharges to combat salinity have depleted water levels in Johor River dams to historic lows, forcing Johor to seek additional potable water supplies from Singapore on three occasions in 2015 and 2016 and to impose water rations for 
85,000 residents and industrial users in April this year .

This shock to the system is spurring a re-evaluation of cross-border water relations, and reveals Johor’s vulnerability to the resource impacts of its own development and the changing climate.

The status quo ties directly to the initial treaties. The 1961 agreement gave Singapore drawing rights of up to 391 million litres per day (mld) until 2011 from the Tebrau and Skudai Rivers in Johor. The 1962 agreement allows Singapore to draw up to 1,136mld from the Johor River until 2060 through the Linggiu Reservoir and the Johor River Water Works (JRWW).

Singapore is to pay RM0.03 (S$0.01) for every 1,000 gallons of water supplied under the two agreements.

The Linggiu Reservoir and the JRWW are located near Kota Tinggi in eastern Johor and are managed by Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB). The reservoir was created by building a dam across a tributary of the Johor River, as agreed under a supplementary agreement signed in 1990, and has been in operation since January 1995. Raw water drawn from the reservoir is channelled to the three water treatment plants that make up the JRWW.

Together, these plants provide a total output of 1,136mld of water, as stipulated under the 1962 agreement, and the treated water is then supplied to Singapore via pipelines.

Despite this long-standing functional cooperation, water has been at times a major irritant in relations between the two countries, with Malaysia arguing that the treaties favour Singapore. Malaysia has made veiled threats that it might cut off the supply of water or repudiate the water agreements when relations became strained along other fronts.

This caused Singapore to become increasingly concerned about its water supply, and influenced the island-state’s security and foreign policy strategies for decades.

One response that began in earnest during the 1970s was Singapore’s multipronged effort towards water diversification. The country invested significantly in technologies and systems for converting wastewater and seawater into useable forms and improving catchment storage. The results are striking: Treated wastewater (NEWater) now accounts for 30 per cent of Singapore’s total freshwater needs and desalinated water 10 per cent; and Singapore’s water catchment area has increased to two-thirds of the country’s land surface, from 11 per cent in 1970.

Each of these domestic sources continues to grow, and as a result, Singapore has been able to reduce its reliance on Malaysian imports.

Today, roughly 40 per cent of Singapore’s water needs are met by water from Malaysia, compared with 80 per cent at independence in 1965.

Significantly, when the 1961 agreement expired on August 31, 2011, Singapore decided against its renewal and handed over two water treatment plants in Skudai and Gunung Pulai and two water pumps in Tebrau and Pontian to Johor. Singapore has set a target for water self-sufficiency by 2061 — not farfetched, given the pace of technological innovations.

Until then, it will continue to depend on Johor for water.


As with much of Malaysia, Johor has historically been water-abundant and receives an average annual rainfall of 1,778mm per year. However, water usage in the state is expanding substantially and, when coinciding with drought, has led to serious shortages. Johor is Malaysia’s second-most- populous state after Selangor, with a population of 3.55 million in 2015, and is becoming an international industrial hub.

The state has traditionally been a major producer of agricultural commodities, including palm oil — where it has the highest growth rate in Peninsula Malaysia — as well as rubber, pineapples, coconuts, cocoa and coffee. This agricultural base is being outstripped by growth alongside its border with Singapore.

The Iskandar Development Region (now named Iskandar Malaysia) was launched in Johor in November 2006 as a special zone covering 2,217 sq km, roughly three times the size of Singapore. The zone focuses on the industrial and service sectors, and seeks to capitalise on its synergies with Singapore to create an integrated economic hub. Between 2006 and 2013, it registered cumulative committed investments totalling RM111.37 billion, of which 40.2 per cent has been realised.

Johor’s population is projected to grow to as much as five million in 2030, doubling water demand. This, along with pollution, is expected to strain Johor’s export commitments to Singapore. Discharge from sewage treatment plants, agro-based factories, livestock farming, estate agriculture and domestic sewage all affect the waters of Johor.

In 2008, 14 out of 21 rivers in the Iskandar Malaysia zone had moderate pollution levels while five rivers in the Tebrau catchment exhibited more serious pollution. One river in the Pasir Gudang catchment experienced severe pollution caused by industrial and development activities.

As pollution has worsened, the cost of water treatment has gone up, and industrial and transportation growth in bustling southern Johor are further exacerbating these threats. The results of dry-season water stresses are becoming progressively apparent.

Malaysia receives the bulk of its rainfall between December and March, and 97 per cent of the country’s needs are met by rain-fed surface water. Johor is no exception and in 2010, more than 500,000 people in the districts of Batu Pahat and Kluang were allowed a supply of water for only 12 hours a day, or 24 hours of alternating water supply. The state government also undertook cloud seeding in an effort to increase water levels, to little avail.

The dry conditions of 2015-2016 have revealed still greater threats to Johor’s water sources.

In August and September 2015, Singapore agreed to transfer 22mld to Johor Bakaj (the Johor Water Regulating Body) following low water levels at the Sungai Layang Dam and the Linggui Reservoir.

The Linggiu Reservoir, which has the capacity to supply half of Singapore’s daily demand, was just 31 per cent full by mid-2016, compared with 80 per cent at the start of the year. Singapore’s Minister of Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli confirmed that the Republic has asked Malaysian water authorities to top up the reservoir.

In June and July alone, Johor Bakaj twice requested additional supplies of water from PUB Singapore, citing supply system shutdowns due to pollution in the Johor River.

The June 4, 2016 request, involving the supply of six million gallons (22.7 million litres) per day for a month, above and beyond the nearly 60mld of treated water that is supplied by Singapore to Johor per day, was due to low water levels from dry weather at Johor’s Sungai Layang dam. In July 2016, Johor Bakaj made an urgent request for an additional supply of 22mld of treated water, this time citing a shutdown of their supply system in Johor Baru due to pollution in the Johor River.


The lack of consumer water efficiency and conservation in Malaysia further complicates matters. Malaysia has the highest per capita water usage in South-east Asia, with a daily water consumption of 280 litres, compared with 155 litres in Singapore, 175 litres in the Philippines and 130 litres in Indonesia.

A key reason is that water in Malaysia is relatively cheap. It is typically not more than 5 per cent of disposable household income and much lower than electricity costs. Johor, however, has among the highest water tariffs among Malaysian states and is unlikely to increase domestic water prices. The state may, in fact, implement targeted water subsidies.

The ruling Barisan Nasional, for example, promised free water to those families who are registered with the MyKasih programme during the 2013 election. The Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party), meanwhile, has attacked the Johor government for the water shortages that have forced the state to seek additional supply from Singapore.

Singapore, likewise, appears not to be on the path towards pricing in more efficient water use. Its current target to reduce per capita consumption to 147 litres by 2020 and 140 litres by 2030 has been criticised as too modest for a country dependent on significant water imports. While in many swathes of the developed world water prices are increasing to promote its sustainable use, in Singapore 2015 prices were 25.5 per cent lower in real terms, compared with 2000.

Malaysian leaders have long argued that the 1961 and 1962 water agreements priced water at a level that is “too low and unrealistic”. Singapore has typically cited the two water agreements and the Separation Agreement of August 7, 1965 and reasoned that “international law and the sanctity of treaties voluntarily entered into by governments are the foundation of inter-state relations” and must be adhered to.

Singapore has not always opposed an increase in the price of water outright. For instance, during talks between then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in September 2001, Singapore made a counter-offer of RM0.45 per 1,000 gallons of water to Malaysia’s proposed RM0.60.

Malaysia and Singapore could ultimately not agree on a fair price or the appropriate methodology for discovering one, and, as a result, the 1960-1961 prices have remained.

Recent scarcities in Johor call into question whether the water relationship can remain on an even keel into the coming years and decades. Johor State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development committee chairman Hasni Mohammad has said that Johor will honour its 1962 agreement with Singapore, although “the selling price does not make sense, given the current environment”, adding that “several quarters” have urged the state government to stop supplying water to Singapore due to the current water shortage.


Despite these problems, there does appear to be bilateral support for making the Singapore-Malaysia water relationship work. Most notably, a February 2013 agreement between Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Razak to honour the terms of the 1962 water agreement and implement the “necessary measures to ensure reliable water supply from the Johor River” bodes well for the future of cross-strait water trade.

Both Malaysia and Singapore have also flagged large-scale capital investments into their water systems to improve efficiency and expand treatment and desalination capacity. Malaysia announced that RM13 billion worth of investment in water distribution systems is required to reduce the share of non-revenue water to 25 per cent by 2020, while Johor has asked for an allocation of RM660 million under the 11th Malaysia Plan to build a new dam at Sungai Ulu Sedili.

The Singapore PUB has called a tender for the construction of a fourth desalination plant, anticipated to be completed by 2019, that will add 30 million gallons of water a day to Singapore’s water supply.

But current realities in Johor may overwhelm Singapore’s long-standing arguments based on the sanctity of treaties. Drought conditions — likely to become more pronounced with the changing climate — converged in 2015 to 2016 with increased water usage and pollution in Johor to challenge the foundation of the bilateral water partnership.

The domestic political considerations and diplomatic underpinnings of water pricing in this cross-border region were already tenuous, and growing water stresses may well make them more so. Responding to this situation will require regulatory diligence and clear-minded diplomacy by the authorities in Johor and Singapore as well as in Kuala Lumpur.

Specifically, it is in Singapore’s interest to continue its collaboration with Malaysia on Johor’s catchment management, given its dependence and its considerable experience in the sector.

Diversifying imports to include sources from Riau, Indonesia, is also not beyond imagination, but has been made less likely by the island’s progress in its domestic water sector. Regardless of the specific mechanisms used, it is important that such resource protection and management efforts do not fall victim to the rush for economic growth. If this occurs, such growth might undermine the very cross-border relations that it calls upon and attempts to strengthen.


Jackson Ewing is Director of Asian Sustainability and Karissa Domondon is an Intern at the Asia Society Policy Institute, Asia Society. This is an excerpt of a longer piece in Perspective, published by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

A more comprehensive study of the subject is included in the recent ISEAS book The Sijori Cross-Border Region. Transnational Politics, Economics and Culture.

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Eight new Zika cases confirmed, total is now 341

Today Online 14 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Eight new Zika cases were confirmed as at 3pm on Wednesday (Sept 14), bringing the total number of cases to 341, according to an update posted on the National Environment Agency’s Zika webpage.

This comes after no new cases were reported a day earlier.

The number of clusters stays at seven: 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.

Of the eight new cases, four are in the Aljunied Crescent cluster, bringing the total number of cases there to 273 so far.

The other four cases were not attributed to any of the clusters listed on the website.

The authorities did not provide information on whether any of the new cases involved pregnant women.

To date, the reported number of pregnant women infected with Zika is eight.

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Nanyang Poly lecturer helps students turn waste into food

WONG PEI TING Today Online 15 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Consumers may soon be able to get healthier bak kwa (dried barbecued meat) and fish luncheon meat made with recycled food waste such as soya pulp.

Nanyang Polytechnic students came up with these food innovations, guided by their lecturer Lina Tan, who sees food waste as raw materials that can literally put food on the table. These innovations and more are on display at the inaugural three-day Tripartite Scientific Conference on food science that started on Wednesday (Sept 14).

Ms Tan had the idea eight years ago when an employee from Singapore-based sauce manufacturer Chng Kee said that it cost up to S$2,000 to dispose of coarse-textured soya bean pulp, a by-product from producing bean cakes and soya bean drinks.

The sum of money spent was “as good as hiring one more person”, Ms Tan said.

She saw that the pulp had good potential as homogeneous food waste because of its consistency.

Collectively, about 30 tonnes of soya pulp are produced daily by the 38 tofu and soya-bean milk companies in Singapore, she added — an amount that is enough to fill at least four garbage trucks.

The lecturer, 42, and her students Ng Soon Ming and Audrey Loh, both in their early 20s, embarked on the food project as part of their studies two years ago.

Collecting 10kg of soya pulp from tofu manufacturer Unicurd in Sembawang each time, they spent about six months devising recipes: Mr Ng made fibre-rich varieties of fish luncheon meat for fishball manufacturer Thong Siek, while Ms Loh experimented with the bak kwa.

They found that using 10 per cent of the pulp was best in terms of not creating a noticeable change in taste.

The bak kwa study was picked up by a well-known bak kwa company in Singapore for its entry in this year’s Food Innovation Product Award, in the hope that it would get some funding to develop it into a viable product. The judging will take place in October.

Ms Tan said: “My hope is that the product launches (happen) by next Chinese New Year, a time when tofu consumption goes up with steamboat (meals), and many tuck into their favourite bak kwa.”

In another of Ms Tan’s studies, unused cabbage cores were collected from restaurant Seoul Garden’s kimchi production and mixed with flour to produce edible bowls and spoons.

The idea was later adapted to create a cabbage snack, which won the honourable mention at the International Union of Food Science & Technology World Congress in Dublin, Ireland, in a competition on producing low-cost yet nutritious food innovations to fight hunger.

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Malaysia: Another dead dolphin found in Penang

The Star 15 Sep 16;

GEORGE TOWN: A dead dolphin washed ashore at the Teluk Bayu beach in Teluk Kumbar, the second such incident in the area within a month.

Beach-goers spotted the carcass, took pictures of it and uploaded them on social media. The images have since gone viral.

The first case occurred last month in which a dead dolphin, believed to have choked on plastic, was found along the beach off Pulau Jerejak.

It was not clear how the dolphin in the latest incident had died.

According to Universiti Sains Malaysia marine biologist Dr Aileen Tan, it was common for turtles to choke on plastic refuse, thinking that these were jellyfish.

Dolphins could also make the same mistake, she said after the first incident.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia president S.M. Mohamed Idris said he was saddened by the incidents because two dolphins had died in a month.

“It’s time for people to realise that throwing away rubbish haphazardly can cause the deaths of sea creatures.

“We will be starting a major clean-up campaign at polluted beaches in the state soon.

“I urge other NGOs to join us,” he added.

The state Fisheries Department could not be reached for comment.

Dead dolphin may have choked on rubbish
The Star 6 Aug 16;

GEORGE TOWN: A dolphin carcass believed to have been choked on rubbish has been found along the beach off Pulau Jerejak.

Photographs of the carcass went viral yesterday, causing an uproar among netizens.

One person commented: “It’s sad. Maybe this dolphin died because it ate plastic floating on the surface, which it thought was food”.

Marine biologist Associate Professor Dr Aileen Tan of Universiti Sains Malaysia said it was common for turtles to choke on plastic rubbish thinking that they were jellyfish. Dolphins also make the same mistake.

“Now, the beaches are more severely polluted compared to the beaches four years ago.

“The stretch along Pantai Acheh is probably the dirtiest due to the presence of old fishing nets, plastic items and other types of rubbish,” she said yesterday.

However, Dr Tan said the dolphin should be dissected to confirm the cause of death.

The animal could have died consuming rubbish thrown into the sea by the people, she said.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president S.M. Mohamed Idris said he was shocked by the incident.

“It’s shocking that this is happening here in a state which is promoting a cleaner, greener and safer environment.

“Penangites have a lackadaisical attitude in maintaining cleanliness,” he added.

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Malaysia: Elephants stuck in mud pool; five dead, two euthanised, two released

ROY GOH New Straits Times 14 Sep 16;

TAWAU: Rangers on Saturday have pulled out four of nine elephants found trapped for days in a three-metre deep mud pool near a logging site in Rinukut.

Two of the rescued adult elephants were released into the wild while two others had to be euthanised after the animals were found to be too weak, suffering from acute dehydration and blinded by the ordeal.

Five of the elephants were already dead when state Wildlife Department rescue unit arrived at the site on Saturday.

State Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the unit was dispatched to the site after the department received a report on the same day.

“Unfortunately, when our team reached the area, five of the elephants were already dead," he said, adding that two were full-sized adults, two juveniles and a newborn.

"We believe they were stuck in that pool for at least a week," he said.

Augustine said that the team, with the help of heavy machinery from a nearby timber camp, managed to pull out the two adult elephants from the pool.

"The two eventually ran back into the forest," he said.

However, the two other elephants that were pulled out later were too weak, he added.

Augustine said to prevent similar mishap, the team decided to cover up the mud pool with soil.

He said investigations have ruled out foul play in the incident.

"The elephants probably went into the mud pool to cool themselves and to bathe.

Unfortunately, they probably underestimated the depth and the quicksand-like consistency of the mud causing them to be trapped." he said.

Pond an elephant death trap

KOTA KINABALU: A disused quarry pond turned out to be a death trap for a herd of seven endangered Borneo Pygmy elephants, with five, including three young calves, drowning and two more being put down as they were too weak to be saved.

Only two elephants in the nine-animal herd escaped alive.

The death of the elephants comes as a major blow to Sabah’s efforts to conserve the 1,500 or so remaining jumbos in its forests.

The nine pachyderms were believed to have been trapped inside the pond for at least a week before the heart-wrenching find by passers-by in Rinukut, off the Kalabakan-Keningau road in Tawau.

A post-mortem confirmed that five of the elephants (two adults, a juvenile and two newborns) had drowned.

Another two adult elephants suffered from severe dehydration.

“The two were too weak, dehydrated and blind that they had to be put to sleep to save them from their misery,” said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga.

“It is tragic,” he told reporters yesterday.

Two other elephants were pulled out of the pond by wildlife rangers. The animals fled to a nearby forest.

The herd had gone to cool off in the four-metre deep disused pond near a timber camp.

Augustine said the department was notified about the trapped elephants by the passers-by and had immediately sent out a rescue team.

“Unfortunately, when our team reached the area, five of the nine trapped elephants were already dead.

“They had been stuck in that pool for at least a week,” he said.

With help of some heavy machinery from the nearby Berkat Saga timber camp, two of the stronger adult elephants managed to be pulled out to safety.

They eventually ran into the forest, Augustine said.

He ruled out foul play based on their investigation and post-mortem reports.

“The elephants probably went into the mud pool to cool themselves and to bathe,” Augustine said.

“They probably underestimated the depth and the quicksand-like consistency of the mud and could not come out,” he added.

The mud pool was sealed with sand following the tragedy.

Augustine urged those who did similar excavations to fill up or fence up areas if they are no longer in use.

This was to prevent possible recurrence especially in areas occupied by elephants and other animals, he added.

All jumbos wanted was to have fun, says vet
The Star 15 Sep 16;

KOTA KINABALU: A baby, wanting to have fun, wades into a pool of water. His buddy joins in. The adults join in too. Then, they run into trouble in the water. In the struggle to get out, the adults trample the young. And seven elephants die.

That was the painful story veterinarian Dr Laura Benedict had to tell after the deaths of seven elephants at a disused mining pond at a jungle area in Tawau.

“It was heart wrenching. It is the worst I have seen so far,” said Dr Benedict, who was part of the eight-member Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) team that went to the scene on Sept 10 after an alert from the public to the Wildlife Department.

“I was really shocked. We don’t come across this sort of cases where nearly a herd is found dead, she said.

“Elephants enjoy the cool water. For them to die in it, it’s so sad.”

Dr Benedict said they moved in quickly to help rescue the surviving elephants that day.

“I believe the calves drowned first. And when the adults tried to get out, they might have trampled on them,” she said.

The closest settlement was about 10km from a timber camp nearby. There was also a plantation about 32km away.

“The place is isolated and people we talked to said that they never go to that area,” she said.

“Whoever dug a hole in the area should have just covered it after they’ve finished their work there. These deaths could have been prevented,” said Dr Benedict, who has been involved in the rescue of over a dozen elephants, including at least 10 calves.

Questions raised over conservation efforts
The Star 15 Sep 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The deaths of seven pygmy elephants in a quarry pond, coming in the wake of the poisoning of 14 adult elephants three years ago, have again raised questions over the conservation of the sub-species.

The elephants are considered endangered and only about 1,500 are to be found in the wild – almost all in Sabah.

Although the Sabah Wildlife Department has ruled out foul play in the latest case, these gentle giants of Sabah remain under threat in shrinking forest areas in view of the severe human-elephants conflicts.

Fears are real that they may face the same fate as the rhinos, where only three are left in captivity and none seen in the wild in the last five years.

“It is really a sad day for conservation to see seven helplessly die in a (disused quarry) mud pool where they enjoy wallowing,” said elephant conservationist Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens.

“I just can’t imagine how they suffered before they died, They must have been struggling to get out of the pool,” he said.

Furthermore, it was a huge setback to see calves dying in the tragedy, he added.

“Elephants are slow breeders. It takes time for their population to increase,” he said, adding that the jumbos were constantly facing threats to their habitat amid growing conflict with development.

This week’s discovery of the dead elephants is the second largest of such deaths in Sabah.

In January 2013, 14 adult elephants were found dead in a widely suspected case of poisoning in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve area in Tawau. One calf tugging to its mother survived.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun described the heartbreaking news as a big dent to efforts towards conservation.

“It is a very sad day for Sabah. We are constantly pushing conservation efforts in Sabah and this incident wiped out a whole herd of our elephants,” Masidi said.

He said this was a lesson for all to learn and that everyone had a duty to assist in conservation and not leave it solely to the rangers of the department.

He also questioned why the disused quarry pond was still there, saying that the people around it or those operating in the area could have identified the threat not only to animals but also human beings.

He said plantations and other companies operating close to wildlife-rich areas should play a role in identifying dangers to the wildlife and take remedial action to prevent untoward incidents.

“People must act consciously. Conservation should be part of our lives. It should be an automatic action to conserve our wildlife and not just leave it to our rangers,” he said.

“The elephants belong to all of us.”

How mud pool came about
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 16 Sep 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The mud pool in which seven Borneo Pygmy elephants drowned is likely to have been dug by timber camp workers less than 15 years ago.

Sabah Forestry director Datuk Sam Mannan said the workers were believed to have dug out the stones to build a road.

“I don’t know why they did not close it. Maybe they left it as a water source or even to be used in the event of forest fires,” he said yesterday.

Mannan said over time, the hole could have been filled with mud and water, adding that it was sad the elephants were trapped in it.

The department, he said, could not pinpoint exactly which group or company had been involved in the digging at the site in Rinukut, off the Kalabakan-Keningau road in Tawau, which was located in an old logging land that came under a former forest management area under the department’s jurisdiction.

“We don’t know for sure who dug the hole.

“We can’t just accuse anyone,” said Mannan, describing the deaths of the animals as a very “unfortunate incident”.

The deaths of the elephants in the 3m- to 4m-deep mud pool have been described as a major blow to Sabah’s conservation of pygmy elephants, which are an endangered species.

The pachyderms drowned after they were stuck in the pool for at least a week. Two others were rescued by wildlife rangers on Saturday.

The deaths have led to calls for more efforts by all stakeholders to minimise dangers to elephants and other wildlife in their areas to ensure their survival.

On Wednesday, State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun described the deaths as “a valuable lesson”.

“We need to minimise lurking dangers within the area and environment where they (the elephants) normally move,” he said, adding that both individuals and companies should take it as their duty and responsibility to protect these iconic creatures.

He said that at the very least, they should inform the Sabah Wildlife Department if they saw situations that could potentially endanger the elephants.

Conflict with humans more of a threat for jumbos
The Star 16 Sep 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s dwindling Borneo pygmy elephant population is more threatened by conflict with humans amid forest clearing for agriculture than by accidental and natural deaths, says a conservationist.

Dr Marc Ancrenaz, who heads the non-governmental organisation Hutan that works with the state Wildlife Department, said deaths through poisoning and shooting took a toll every year on the roaming elephants, which are estimated to number between 1,500 and 2,500.

“Every year, we believe there are quite a number of elephants dying due to poisoning or being shot dead by people trying to stop them from destroying their plantations,” he said.

Human-elephant conflict, said Dr Ancrenaz, had become unavoidable because as large tracts of jungles and forests were cleared for agricultural and development purposes, these elephants continued to venture into such areas which were their traditional habitat.

“Our forests are fragmented from (Sabah’s eastern) Kinabatangan to (southeastern) Kalabakan in Tawau.

“The fragmentation of our forests will continue to create conflict with villagers and planters because these elephants need to find food,” he said. “Their isolated forest is not sufficient for their foraging needs.”

“We still need more corridors to link the isolated forests for the elephants to move about and breed,” said Dr Ancrenaz.

He said the accidental deaths of the elephants in the mud pool might not have happened if those who dug it closed it up after carrying out their activities in the area.

“It is an irresponsible act,” he said, adding that the area was likely to be the natural roaming ground for the elephants in the forested areas of Kalabakan before logging took place.

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Malaysia: Bad weather a thorn in their side

RAHMAH GHAZALI The Star 15 Sep 16;

PETALING JAYA: Erratic weather and low production mean that this has not been a fruitful season for durian sellers.

Ong Sim Lim, who helps run Donald’s Durian in Section 19 here, said a major factor affecting them was the weather, which could go from hot to cool within a short time.

“The weather has been crazy and this can also affect the quality and texture of the durian. Because of this, the fruits are fewer,” he said.

Ong, who has been in the business for 20 years, said there were fewer fruits available because suppliers preferred to export the durians to countries like China and Indonesia.

“We definitely made more (money last year). This year, our profit has dropped by about at least 30%.

“And it is hard to say what it will be like next year,” he told The Star.

This year, the price of the Musang King is RM45.50 per kilo, up from RM38 last year.

Another durian seller Faizal Safrizal said he could not sell durians this week as there was no stock available.

“Business has been particularly slow this year, maybe due to the weather,” he said.

Aiming to continue his business in Sepang next week, the 36-year-old said he usually got his supply from Johor and Pahang.

“But many trees did not bear fruits there. In every acre, only about five trees produced fruits,” he said.

The popular Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Penang has stopped selling durians as it is no longer in season.

“The durian season in Penang is different from other states,” said Zhang Zhi Vooi, the owner’s son.

“It usually starts in May until end of August. We never eat durian in September here,” he added. He said tourists were left disappointed when they were told that the durians were no longer in stock.

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Indonesia: More hot spots recorded in West Kalimantan

Severianus Endi and Novi Abdi The Jakarta Post 14 Sep 16;

The number of hot spots across West Kalimantan province has been growing since early this week with some 400 of them detected on Tuesday, increasing from only 140 the previous day.

Despite the high number of hot spots, thick haze was nevertheless not seen in Pontianak, the provincial capital, or in the surrounding regions, thanks to rain of light to medium capacity that has fallen on the areas for the last three weeks.

Giri Darmono of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said West Kalimantan never experienced full rainy or dry seasons given its location on the equator.

“The dry season here is called the wet dry because there is always a possibility for rain to fall, like what happened in the last three weeks,” Giri said.

As of 6 a.m. on Tuesday, he said, 403 hot spots were detected across the province in eight of its 14 regencies and cities. The highest number of hot spots was detected in Ketapang regency, which had 172, followed by Melawi with 78, Sintang with 57, Sekadau with 42 and others with less than 25.

Giri said haze had not yet affected visibility. Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. visibility was recorded at between 2,000 and 3,000 meters and it returned to a normal 10,000 meters after 8 a.m.

The West Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BPBD) emergency and logistics division head, Bosman D. Hutahaean, said four helicopters had been deployed to water bomb the area.

A Casa 212 had been in operation to spread 12,800 kilograms of salt for cloud seeding to help speed up the rains.

“Today water bombings will be conducted over the North Kayong, Ketapang and Sanggau regencies with maximum flight capabilities of three-and-a-half hours,” Bosman said.

Of the 14 regencies and cities in West Kalimantan, 10 have declared emergency alert statuses for forest and land fires. Also, as many as 3,500 personnel had been deployed to fight the fires.

Provisional data showed that 600.6 hectares of forest and land had caught on fire throughout 2016 so far. They comprised 509 hectares of land belonging to individuals, 1.6 hectares of plantations and 90 hectares of conservation area.

Separately, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, in his release on Monday, said the source of fires came from land clearing for plantations and agriculture in the Sekadau, Ketapang, Landak and Sanggau regencies.

He said thin haze was also spotted in the Katingan regency in Central Kalimantan.

Meanwhile, light and medium intensity rains helped provinces of East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and North Kalimantan keep free from smoky haze, allowing residents to enjoy clean air.

“It is very likely that this year will be safe [from haze], but we will always be on alert over potential land and forest fires,” said Nunuk Kasiyanto, a volunteer firefighter.

The head of the Balikpapan BMKG, Imam Mashudi, described the continuing rainfall during the dry season that had occurred since early this year as a “wet dry season”.

House to summon companies allegedly behind fires
Marguerite Afra Sapiie The Jakarta Post 15 Sep 16;

The House of Representatives committee investigating forest fires will summon 15 companies alleged to have been responsible for land and forest fires in order to get to the bottom of why terminations of investigation (SP3s) into the companies’ activities were issued by Riau Police.

The committee's chairperson Benny K. Harman said that lawmakers had found an indication of manipulation during the process of the SP3 issuance. For example, he added, the police did not send notification letters on the investigation orders (SPDP) to the Riau Prosecutor’s Office when they named the companies as suspects, but then unilaterally issued the SP3s, citing reasons such as a lack of evidence.

"We want to ensure the transparency and accountability of the mechanism and the background [of the SP3 issuance]," Benny told reporters on Wednesday.

Benny said the public wanted to know whether the issuances followed a legal process or whether non-legal aspects influenced the decisions. The hearing with the companies are expected in the next five weeks.

Before summoning the 15 companies, the committee plans to summon Environment and Forestry Ministry officials to obtain more accurate data on the companies, Benny said, especially to verify whether the companies had valid production-forest concession permits and to ascertain further facts behind the forest fires allegedly started by them. (dan)

Haze-free Riau after 18 years
Sujadi Siswo Channel NewsAsia 14 Sep 16;

JAKARTA: For the first time in 18 years, the Indonesian province of Riau in Sumatra has managed to prevent haze caused by raging forest fires, from choking the province.

Last year was especially bad - Riau and five other provinces in Indonesia declared states of emergency because of the haze, and schools and airports were shut down.

The region was also affected with the haze spreading to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

But early intervention this year, has helped prevent a repeat of the situation.

Residents of Pekanbaru in Riau are enjoying the outdoors once again after years of being choked by haze from forest fires this time of year.

Air quality and visibility have been in the moderate range in most days and in most areas.

At its peak last year, there were more than a thousand hotspots in Riau alone, compared to just over a hundred detected this year.

And with the rainy season now on its way, it appears the worst is over.

“The peak of the dry season has passed. It was predicted to be from June and August. In fact we forecast some parts of Riau should have experienced some rain," said Aristya Ardhitama, a climatologist at the Riau Meteorological Agency.

This year, the Indonesian authorities acted early to prevent forest fires - a lesson they learned from last year's catastrophe, when the haze reached hazardous levels.

As early as six months ago, authorities declared a state of emergency in Riau and 5 other provinces, enabling more resources to be deployed.

More than 6,000 personnel were mobilised in Riau province alone, assisted by firefighting planes equipped to douse the fires and prevent them from spreading.

Cloud-seeding operations were also carried out to induce rain.

Edwar Sanger, the head of the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency said: “According to the meteorological agency rainy season starts in October. Therefore if we can maintain the current smog-free situation for the next 20 days, we will create history after having suffered over the last 18 years. God willing there won’t be any more smog in Riau. This is demonstrated by no shutdown of schools and airport, no distribution of masks and so on. We are grateful.”

However, authorities are aware that forest fires and the ensuing haze will need much more time to be completely eradicated.

Most farmers still use the slash and burn practice to clear their land. Oil palm plantation companies that use them as part of their supply chain exacerbate the problem.

"We always try to educate to the communities not to stop clear the land by burning. They should find alternative ways. We've explained this," said Edwar.

Weak enforcement is another challenge, made worse by alleged corrupt practices that have been around for decades.

So, residents in Riau – for the first time in almost 2 decades – are enjoying cleaner air. But there is no guarantee this will continue when the next dry season comes along. Fighting fires for half a year every year drains resources and energy.

A more sustainable solution must be found to eradicate the haze problem. And this will take a lot more time and effort.

- CNA/mn

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Humanity driving 'unprecedented' marine extinction

Report comparing past mass extinction events warns that hunting and killing of ocean’s largest species will disrupt ecosystems for millions of years
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 14 Sep 16;

Humanity is driving an unprecedented extinction of sealife unlike any in the fossil record, hunting and killing larger species in a way that will disrupt ocean ecosystems for millions of years, scientists have found.

A new analysis of the five mass extinction events millions of years ago discovered there was either no pattern to which marine species were lost, or smaller species were the ones that disappeared.

But today’s “sixth extinction” is unique in the way that the largest species, such as great white sharks, blue whales and southern bluefin tuna, are being pushed to the brink, due to humans’ tendency to fish for larger species more often than smaller ones.

The consequences, according to a study published in the journal Science on Wednesday, are devastating for the ecology of the world’s oceans.

“If this pattern goes unchecked, the future oceans would lack many of the largest species in today’s oceans,” said Jonathan Payne, associate professor and chair of geological sciences at Stanford University. “Many large species play critical roles in ecosystems and so their extinctions could lead to ecological cascades that would influence the structure and function of future ecosystems beyond the simple fact of losing those species.”

The danger is disproportionate to the percentage of threatened species, with the authors warning the loss of giants would “disrupt ecosystems for millions of years even at levels of taxonomic loss far below those of previous mass extinctions”.

The loss of larger species in the oceans could have knock-on effects on ecosystems, Payne said, citing the loss of very large predatory seasnails (Triton) from coral reefs, which appears to be one of the reasons behind the explosive growth in numbers of crown of thorns starfish, which eat coral.

Humans would be affected by such trends too, he said, as communities rely on coral reefs to attract tourism. He also pointed to the examples of tuna and cod, whose extinction would deprive people of an important source of income and protein.

To see how the current loss of species compared to previous extinctions, Payne and his team analysed a database of 2,497 groups of marine vertebrate and mollusc over the past 500 years, and compared it to the ancient past.

They found no precedent in the fossil record for today’s trend towards killing off larger-bodied species, with previous mass extinctions marked by either no association with body size or an association with smaller species.

“The link that we found between body size and extinction threat in the modern oceans is quite strong,” Payne told the Guardian.

Co-author Noel Heim, also at Stanford, said: “We see this over and over again. Humans enter into a new ecosystem, and the largest animals are killed off first. Marine systems have been spared up to now, because until relatively recently, humans were restricted to coastal areas and didn’t have the technology to fish in the deep ocean on an industrial scale.”

Fellow author Douglas McCauley said large body size was often linked with the need for larger ocean spaces to range in, so an increasing trend for governments to create very large marine protected areas could hold some hope for species.

“Historically marine protected areas have been small boutique affairs - more like the size of golf courses. In the past five years, however, the world has begun aggressively setting up very large marine protected areas.

“Recently Obama created the world’s largest protected area in Papahānaumokuākea, a protected area just over a million square kilometres in size. This is really good news as parks of this size will indeed provide meaningful protection for large vulnerable animals we highlight as being at risk.”

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Arctic sea ice cover set to be second lowest ever recorded, data suggests

Satellite data shows ice was close to last year’s record low confirming a long-term downward trend towards ice-free Arctic summers
John Vidal The Guardian 14 Sep 16;

Arctic sea ice cover could be confirmed within days as the second lowest ever recorded, the latest data suggests.

According to the US national snow and ice data centre (NSIDC) the ice which forms and disperses annually has been close to its minimum extent for the year for several days and has begun to grow again as autumn sets in.

It was measured by satellite as 4.169m sq km on 12 September, a slight increase on the 4.139m sq km on 11 September. As the Arctic winter closes in, the ice cover will climb, reaching around 15m sq km by March.

Ice scientists said the figures were the “new normal” and confirmed the long-term downward trend towards ice-free Arctic summers.

“We are not going back to how it was. There is nothing to suggest it will stop. Eventually we will lose the summer ice. It’s not going to be next year but we are on that trajectory,” said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at the NSIDC and a professor at University College London.

“Climate systems are inherently chaotic. You could have some temporary recovery of the ice but we are not going back,” she said.

“This year has shown there is no correlation between what happens in May and September. May was the lowest ever, but 2016 did not end up the lowest,” said Stroeve. “The ice has definitely been thinner this year. Thinning ice is keeping the extent lower than it would otherwise have been.”

2016 looked likely to break all records for melting when Arctic sea ice hit a record low extent over the winter. But a cloudy and cool summer is thought to have slowed the annual melt.

Two major storms in August probably accelerated the melt by stirring up the broken ice, said the NSIDC in its monthly bulletin.

“It appears that the August 2016 storms helped to break up the ice and spread it out. Some of this ice divergence likely led to fragmented ice being transported into warmer ocean waters, hastening the melt. Whether warmer waters from below were mixed upwards to hasten melt remains to be determined,” it said. “It may be that as the ice cover thins, its response to storms is changing.”

2016 was also marked by the absence of ice as far north as 87N, a few hundred miles from the North pole. This is extremely rare but not unprecedented, said NSIDC director, Mark Serreze.

2016 is “another year in the new normal of the Arctic”, he told Mashable.

The lowest extent of sea ice ever recorded was in 2012 when it measured 3.41m square km – down from averages of around 8m sq km in the 1970s. Ice thickness has also reduced by around 40% in the last 35 years.

The melting Arctic is recognised as an indicator for climate change, with rates of warming higher than elsewhere. Many scientists expect the reduction of sea ice to allow the Arctic ocean to warm and to trigger the releases of methane, a powerful warming gas.

The result would be an Arctic “death spiral”, said Cambridge ice scientist Peter Wadhams in a book published last month.

Greenland experienced a ‘heatwave’ in early April with temperatures above 25C. Average temperatures in July were 2-4C higher than usual in many places.

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