Best of our wild blogs: 4 Oct 16

Mangrove flora surveys with R.U.M. volunteers
Restore Ubin Mangroves Initiative

Juvenile White-Bellied Sea Eagle Fishing @ SBWR Eagle Point - 2Oct2016

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3%-5% of veggies, fruit exceeded pesticide limits

Samantha Boh, Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Oct 16;

Some 300 batches of vegetables - mostly leafy greens - and fruit were stopped from being sold in Singapore last year, after pesticide residues found on samples exceeded levels allowed by the authorities.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) sampled about 8,000 consignments of imported vegetables and fruit for pesticides last year.

About 3 to 5 per cent were rejected for containing too much pesticides, a rate that has remained constant over the years, said the AVA.

But this does not necessarily mean that they are unsafe, stressed the AVA and food science experts.

While the levels used for food safety inspections - also known as maximum residue limits (MRLs) - are safeguards to protect consumers from toxic levels, they are not absolute food safety limits.

"Detection of MRL violations does not necessarily mean the food is unsafe for consumption as MRLs are set with a large safety margin," said Dr Wu Yuan Sheng, deputy director of the Pesticide Residues Section at AVA's Laboratories Group.

This large margin, he explained, is put in place to ensure that even if people consumed multiple types of food with the same pesticide, the levels of toxins ingested will still be safe for the body.

The AVA did not specify the vegetables that failed the inspection, or where they are from.

Amid growing awareness about food safety issues and a burgeoning movement to "go organic", the AVA has been dogged in its checks.

Each day at its pesticide residues laboratory in Lim Chu Kang, 30 to 40 samples of food products - including fresh vegetables, fruit and grains - are tested for hundreds of pesticides simultaneously. The lab has the machinery to test for over 400 different pesticides.

Food found to have pesticide residue levels above the amount permitted will not be allowed for sale.

"Besides confiscation and destruction of the implicated consignments, importers are also subject to enforcement actions such as fines, suspension or prosecution," said Dr Wu. But, he added, there have been only a "rare few cases" that posed safety concerns.

Recently, world-renowned food toxicity expert Carl Winter from the University of California, Davis, was in town for the Insights to Emerging Trends in Food Science and Technology conference, where he also drove home the point that consumers should not be overly worried about pesticides.

"It is the dose that makes the poison - it is the amount, not its presence or its absence that determines the potential for harm," he stressed.

And to determine if a substance is toxic, one needs to consider its dose and length of exposure, he added. "My concern as a food toxicologist is that we tend to be worried about pesticide residues to the extent we are doing ourselves more harm than good by choosing to consume fewer fruit and vegetables."

Every year, each person here eats about 70 packs of leafy vegetables.

Food science experts also say that organic does not mean pesticide-free. But Professor William Chen, director of Nanyang Technological University's Food Science and Technology Programme, noted that pesticides on organic food should contain natural biological components instead of synthetic chemicals, making them less toxic to human health.

"Their activity lifetime is also shorter compared to the synthetic pesticides, thus even safer," he said.

One piece of good news is that the use and type of pesticides are generally getting less toxic.

Prof Chen said that due to the development of better pesticides targeted at insects, the amount of pesticides applied per hectare of crops has fallen from the kilogram to the grams range since the 1990s.

Dr Wu also noted that modern pesticides are more smartly designed such that they target enzyme systems unique to insects and which do not exist in humans.

Traditional pesticides, like organophosphate pesticides which studies have linked to impairment of the nervous system, are being used less frequently.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, many organophosphate pesticides have been banned or their use severely restricted in many countries.

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Fallen tree damages gas pipes at Holland Close; about 70 households affected

Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE - A tree about eight storeys tall was believed to have been felled by heavy rain and strong winds early Monday (Oct 3) morning at Holland Close.

The fallen tree damaged gas pipes and affected the gas supply to an estimated 72 households living in a block of flats.

A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) spokesman said it was alerted to the incident at Block 1, Holland Close, at 5.41am.

A fire engine, a red rhino and an ambulance were dispatched to the scene, although no injuries were reported.

For safety reasons, SCDF also shut off the mains to the gas pipes.

The tree's falling branches shattered the windows of five units in the block.

A resident who lived on the fourth floor told the Chinese evening daily that his unit's gas supply was cut off from about 6.30am.

"It was really inconvenient without a gas supply. My wife often makes breakfast, but this morning we had no choice but to go out and buy food," he said.

A Singapore Power spokesman said the tree had damaged a gas riser and an estimated 72 units in the block were affected.

"Our technicians were immediately deployed to the site and our priority was to ensure the safety of everyone in the vicinity. As a precautionary measure, valves to the gas pipes were shut off by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to isolate the leak," he said.

The spokesman added that the gas supply was restored at 8.45am, although it was interrupted for about 15 minutes at around 1pm to allow repair works to be completed.

In response to media queries, a Tanjong Pagar Town Council spokesman said it was working with the Housing and Development Board to contact the owners of the five units whose window's glass panes had been damaged.

Shin Min also reported that at least 19 trees had been felled over the past two months due to thunderstorms.

A notable incident last month saw a 12-storey-high heritage tree fall on Pearl Bank Apartments in Outram.

The Purple Millettia, which was over 60 years old, damaged several apartments.

- See more at:

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Life Interview with Bjorn Low: Urban farming gave life goal to co-founder of Edible Garden City

Venessa Lee Straits Times 3 Oct 16;

Mr Bjorn Low, 35, has not always been resolute when it comes to his career and studies.

The co-founder of Edible Garden City, an urban farming social enterprise, admits he can be "easily swayed". Before he took the unusual step to champion growing one's own food in land-scarce Singapore, his major life choices were uncontroversial.

He followed in the footsteps of his then-girlfriend, now his wife, Ms Crystal Tan, 36, when she suggested that he try advertising for his first job.

After seven years in that industry, they took a sabbatical to go travelling, also on the strength of her persuasiveness. The couple, who met through a mutual friend when they were both about 23, left their digital marketing jobs at the same advertising firm in London when they were in their late 20s.

Earlier in Mr Low's life, the influence of family members played a role in his decision to take business degrees - a bachelor's degree in commerce, focusing on marketing, at Curtin University in Perth, in part because he thought he could help his businessman father; and a master's degree in business administration from Australia's Southern Cross University, on his uncle's advice.

But when it came to farming in urban jungle Singapore, which imports more than 90 per cent of its food, Mr Low is determined to pursue his vision despite its challenges. "We're sharing the ideology of a movement building a sustainable urban farming industry in Singapore," he says.

After leaving advertising in Britain, he and his wife, who now have two sons - Dylan, four, and Fred, 1½ - spent about four years working on organic farms in places such as Spain, Scotland and Japan.

On their return to Singapore, he started Edible Gardens in 2012 with former landscape designer Robert Pearce, who has since become less active in the business. Mr Low changed the outfit's name to Edible Garden City about two years later, but its goals for improving local sustainability in food production are unchanged.

Tall and lanky, he has an easy- going manner that belies an ambitious streak. His big-picture plans include reviving interest in local vegetables that Singaporeans used to eat, but which have fallen out of favour - leafy greens such as mani cai and ulam raja.

As we wander around his 7,000 sq ft space in HortPark, which is called Nong (farming in Chinese) and is used for retail and educational workshops, he plucks leaves from his garden for me to sample: icy-breathed peppermint, tangy red-leafed hibiscus.

He works with restaurants to substitute locally grown herbs for those used in Western dishes such as wood sorrel, and grows spearmint for their mojito cocktails.

Four years ago, with a capital sum of $12,000, he began designing and maintaining vegetable and herb gardens at restaurants such as Artichoke in Middle Road and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian outlet in VivoCity.

Edible Garden City also makes use of under-utilised spaces in Singapore, where the land used for agriculture makes up less than 1 per cent of the total land area.

Mr Low and his team have built similar gardens on the rooftops of buildings such as Wheelock Place and Raffles City, as well as in schools such as Pathlight, which teaches high-functioning autistic children, and Montfort Secondary.

From its early days with five staff, Edible Garden City has 12 today. And last year, it generated $700,000 in revenue, with a net profit of $100,000.

Mr Low's interest in agriculture did not start in Singapore, but in London, where he and Ms Tan were posted by their advertising firm.

While he was enjoying champagne brunches, business-class travel and classy hotels, the dark London winters gave him a different perspective. The winter blues "made us reflect on what we wanted in life", he recalls.

He had become interested in gardening in the apartment he shared with Ms Tan in the lively Camden area and started thinking about growing his own food.

The advertising job was stressful and Ms Tan persuaded him to leave it and go travelling on their savings.

They discovered the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms international volunteer network and, for the next four years or so, worked on organic farms, mostly in Europe. With board and food provided, they spent little, mostly on occasional outlays such as "instant noodle fixes".

This simple life so appealed to Mr Low that he took up a diploma in biodynamic agriculture in Britain.

He was influenced by the late British ecological writer John Seymour, who advocated living as close to nature as possible and being able to produce enough food on one acre (0.4ha) of land for a family of four.

"I always hope to have just one plot of land and live simply," he says of the dream he shares with his wife.

But, he adds, he has no plans of owning landed property here in the near future. It is too expensive, he says. The couple and their sons live with Mr Low's parents at their condominium in Marine Parade.

Although he thought of buying a small farm in Wales, an area where he worked for a while, the pull of home was strong for him. "I thought a lot about Singapore. I had the luxury of experiencing this way of living, I thought it could be brought back to Singapore in a way that was suitable," he says.

Although Ms Tan, now a project manager at a creative agency, supported him in returning to Singapore, it was a conflicted choice. "He's leading the movement here in exchange for our own family's dream of having that for ourselves, having a life that's closer to nature," she says.

Their sons spend time outdoors daily and, during school holidays, often go to work with Mr Low, catching worms and feeding snails to chickens in the gardens he works in.

Mr Low is part of a growing urban farming scene. With factors such as global price and supply fluctuations, "local production plays an important complementary role in ensuring Singapore's food supply resilience", says an Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) spokesman. The AVA has a $63-million Agriculture Productivity Fund to help local farmers.

However, the challenges are considerable for Mr Low, the only child of a father who ran a business selling electronic goods such as television sets and air-conditioning units and a housewife mother.

His family members asked him why he took up farming when he had business qualifications. Once drawing a monthly salary of about $10,000 in his ad man's job in London, he paid himself a salary of $1,500 for the first year after starting Edible Gardens. The figure has since increased to $2,500.

And parents of his trainees have baulked at the "messy" and hot farming conditions.

Things improved when, in 2014, Mr Low met Ms Cynthia Chua, founder and chief executive officer of the Spa Esprit Group, whose diverse beauty and food and beverage businesses include Strip, which provides grooming services, and Open Farm Community, a farm-to- table restaurant.

Mr Low's name came up when Ms Chua was looking for local farmers to work with a French chef who wanted to grow his own produce.

"Bjorn showed me what I thought was not possible," says Ms Chua, citing how his ideas include farming in air-conditioned surroundings.

"He is forward-thinking, with his heart in the right place. He wants to help the community too. Growing one's own food is possible. I can interpret (his vision), I can excite the public about it," she says. "I think he is a pioneer."

Her group invested $250,000 in Edible Garden City and Mr Low estimates that about 40 per cent of his business is the outcome of this collaboration with Ms Chua.

Mr Low has been working on producing beauty products, such as anti-bacterial creams using calendula flowers grown by Edible Garden City, which will be used in some Spa Esprit businesses by the end of the year.

Also by year-end, he plans to move to his business' new 86,100 sq ft headquarters in Queenstown.

With a recent $200,000 grant by the Singapore Centre For Social Enterprise, Edible Garden City hopes to hire 20 beneficiaries from vulnerable groups in two years. It already employs three adults with autism, who work part-time on indoor farming premises at the Enabling Village, a community space in Redhill for persons with disabilities.

He is thinking of a "new type of community centre", which can bring commercially viable urban farms into communities, where they can produce food as well as engage groups such as people with disabilities and the elderly in the enterprise.

Mr Low, who felt he was "going through the motions" when he studied for his master's degree, finds satisfaction in working with his hands, though he does not like to eat the produce he grows.

He says: "With nature, you fall into the cycle of life. It takes time to grow something. You feel connected to it."

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Dengue cases dip to lowest weekly figure this year

Channel NewsAsia 4 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: A total of 138 new dengue cases were reported in Singapore in the week ending Oct 1, 35 cases fewer than the previous week and the lowest weekly figure this year, according to figures published on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) dengue website on Tuesday (Oct 4).

The previous lowest was the 161 cases reported in the second week of June.

Another 20 cases were reported between Oct 2 and 3pm on Oct 3. A total of 12,054 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year.

Seven people have died of the disease so far, with the latest fatality a 79-year-old man who lived in Eastwood Drive near Upper East Coast Road. There were four dengue fatalities in the whole of 2015.

There are now 26 active dengue clusters in Singapore – down from 35 the previous week – including six classified as high-risk. The biggest cluster is in the area around Yishun Avenue 4 and Yishun Street 61, where 61 cases have been reported, including five in the past fortnight.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

- CNA/cy

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Malaysia: Saltwater crocs can be harvested soon as numbers are on the rise

The Star 4 Oct 16;

KUCHING: Saltwater crocodiles in Sarawak, a protected species which has seen an increase in numbers, can soon be culled and traded for their meat and skin.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has agreed to Malaysia’s proposal to downlist the reptile from Appendix I to Appendix II at its conference in Johannesburg.

Natural Resources and Envi­­ron­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, who announced it yesterday, said the significance of the Appendix II listing was that the crocodiles could be harvested for commercial use.

“There is demand for crocodile meat from countries like China, Thailand and Vietnam, while crocodile skin has a high economic value,” he told a press conference.

Dr Wan Junaidi said Malaysia sought the downlisting as the population of saltwater crocodiles in Sarawak had risen in the last 30 years to about 13,500, leading to more frequent conflicts with humans.

In Sungai Samarahan, where two attacks were reported last month, the crocodile population increased by 108.5% since 1985 while Sungai Limbang saw an increase of 38%.

“This exceeds the numbers needed for conservation efforts. The downlisting was approved on the grounds that it will benefit the rural people who depend on rivers as well as boost their economy.

“At the same time, we will ensure that the harvesting is done in a sustainable manner,” Dr Wan Junaidi said.

Sarawak's saltwater crocs can now be harvested commercially
SHARON LING The Star 3 Oct 16;

KUCHING: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has agreed to allow the wild harvest of saltwater crocodiles in Sarawak for commercial use.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said CITES approved Malaysia's proposal to downlist the reptile from its Appendix I to Appendix II at a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa last week.

He said an Appendix II listing means that the animal can be harvested for commercial use.

"There is demand for crocodile meat from countries like China, Thailand and Vietnam, while crocodile skin has high economic value.

"So we will now be allowed to export crocodile meat and skin to other countries," Wan Junaidi told a press conference at the Kuching International Airport on Monday.

He said Malaysia sought the downlisting as the population of saltwater crocodiles (crocodylus porosus) in Sarawak had risen over in the past 30 years to about 13,500 last year, leading to more frequent conflicts with humans.

In Sungai Samarahan, where two attacks were reported last month, the crocodile population has increased by 108.5% since 1985 while Sungai Limbang has seen a 38% increase.

"This exceeds the numbers needed for conservation efforts. The downlisting was approved on the grounds that it will benefit the rural people who depend on rivers as well as boost their economy.

"At the same time, we will ensure that the harvesting is done in a sustainable manner so that the crocodiles will not become extinct," Wan Junaidi said.

He said the downlisting would only come into effect in about six months' time once the necessary regulations are drawn up and put in place.

He also said the harvesting and trade of crocodiles would only be applicable in Sarawak.

"We hope this will reduce the density of crocodiles in rivers as well as human-crocodile conflict," he added.

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Malaysia: ‘Big cat’ turns out to be clouded leopard

NIK NAIZI HUSIN The Star 4 Oct 16;

JERANTUT: What they thought was a big cat resting under a house turned out to be a clouded leopard.

Felda settler Ramli Othman said he initially assumed it was an unusually large cat until it let out a deafening roar.

“When my friends and I went to have a closer look, we were shocked to see that it was a leopard. We ran away to avoid being attacked,” said Ramli, 60.

“I told my children to hide inside the house in case the animal went wild. Luckily, that did not happen,” he said at Felda Kota Gelanggi 3.

Ramli said his 10-year-old grandson was the one who spotted the leopard, which was resting under the house at 7.30am yesterday.

“He alerted me, saying there was a giant cat under the house,” he added.

Ramli called the Civil Defence Department for help.

According to state Department of Wildlife and National Parks deputy director Mohd Zaide Mohamed Zin, the animal was a harimau dahan, or clouded leopard.

The animal was later caught and brought to the Kuala Krau wildlife reserve in Jenderak, Temerloh.

Felda settlers scamper as leopard found resting under villagers' house
T.N.ALAGESH New Straits Times 3 Oct 16;

JERANTUT: Residents at Felda Kota Gelanggi 3 near here today woke up to news that a clouded leopard has been spotted resting under one of the settlers houses.

The 7.30am drama unfolded when one of the settler's neighbours spotted the animal. He then alerted other villagers.

Settler Ramli Othman said after news about the presence of the big cat spread in the village, some of them went to check if the information was genuine.

The 60-year-old said that as the area under the house was dark, he along with few others brought flashlights.

"We shone the flashlight from a distance and even before we could catch a glimpse of the clouded leopard, the animal gave out a loud roar. All of us ran for safety," he said.

He said the villagers then locked themselves inside their respective homes before alerting the Civil Defence Department and Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), who arrived about 9.30am.

Perhilitan rangers later captured the clouded leopard using tranquiliser darts.

Leopard found under house back in the wild
The Star 5 Oct 16;

KUANTAN: The clouded leopard (pic) found by villagers in Felda Kota Gelanggi 3 in Jerantut has been released in the Krau Wildlife Reserve.

State Wildlife and National Parks Department deputy director Mohd Zaide Mohamed Zin said it was released in the forest at 7.30am yesterday.

Mohd Zaide said the animal weighed 30kg, while its body measured 101cm and its tail 88cm.

He said it was fortunate that the leopard was not aggressive while resting under a house in the settlement before it was caught on Monday.

“The leopard could have been lost from its group and was taking shelter under the house.

“As daylight came, the animal saw human beings nearby and possibly could not find its way out to the jungle.

“The villagers were also smart enough not to disturb it and called for help immediately.

“If the leopard had been disturbed and become aggressive, the villagers could have been attacked.

“Fortunately, this did not happen and we managed to release it back into the wild safely,” Mohd Zaide said.

On Monday, a 10-year-old boy spotted the animal resting under his house and alerted his grandfather.

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Malaysia: Johor sees drop in dengue cases and deaths

The Star 4 Oct 16;

JOHOR BARU: The number of dengue cases and deaths in Johor has declined in the first nine months of the year.

There were 9,348 cases and 16 deaths from January until September, said state Health and Environment committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat.

During the corresponding period last year, 11,377 cases were recorded with 33 deaths.

A 38-year-old woman from Jalan Khalidi, Muar, was the latest person who died of dengue, Ayub said.

He attributed the reduced cases to better public awareness and the search and destroy method introduced by the Johor Baru City Council.

The method, he said, would identify places such as abandoned and vacant houses and construction sites which had become mosquito-breeding grounds.

Apart from issuing fines or compounds to the owners of the houses or sites, he said the state authorities would also bill them for cleaning up their premises.

“We hope the local councils in the Johor Baru district will adopt the method used by MBJB,” he said.

“We are not resting on our laurels despite the declining number of dengue cases. We will continue to beef up our efforts to reduce the cases,” Ayub told a press conference yesterday after presenting awards to winners of a contest on clean primary school canteens organised by the Johor Health Department food safety and quality division.

As for Zika cases, he said the screening of visitors entering the country from Singapore via the Causeway here and the Second Link Crossing in Tanjung Kilang, Gelang Patah, would continue.

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Indonesia: What’s Clogging Jakarta’s Waterways? You Name It

JOE COCHRANE New York Times 3 Oct 16;

An excavator getting trash out of a river in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August. The city is dredging its 17 rivers and canals — the first time it has done so since the 1970s. Credit Kemal Jufri for The New York Times
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Standing at his post at a floodgate in the middle of Jakarta, Bejo Santoso says he has seen it all.

He doesn’t mean a lifetime of experiences. He is talking about the variety of man-made waste that floats down the Ciliwung River before it is expunged into a deep bay that a Dutch fleet spotted more than 400 years ago.

Mr. Bejo and dozens of his colleagues stationed at waterways around the city have pulled out refrigerators, televisions, mattresses and furniture. Sometimes they find human corpses — the missing victims of flash floods.

“Every year we find one or two,” said Mr. Bejo, 49, who operates an excavator that removes an estimated 740 cubic feet of garbage and natural debris from the river each day. That’s enough to fill his crew’s truck three times during a shift.

The Jakarta city administration, with help from international donors and the national government, is dredging its 17 rivers and canals — the first time it has done so since the 1970s. The waterways were 70 percent blocked, a central contributor to the city’s chronic flooding problems.

Jakarta is one of Asia’s largest cities, with an estimated population of more than 10 million. About 20 percent of its daily waste ends up in local rivers and canals, the city’s public works department has determined.

Workers like Mr. Bejo use floating orange buoys to trap the garbage. Most of it, they say, is thrown in by people who live in riverbank communities and were never taught to think that bodies of water were anything other than garbage dumps.

Opportunistic scavengers — as well as some city waste management employees — string nets and, sometimes, cages in the waterways to collect plastic and metal items, which they can sell to recycling operations.

“It’s not easy to change the notion that the river is a trash can,” said Steven Tabor, the Asian Development Bank’s country director for Indonesia.

On a recent day, the pile of trapped trash bobbing on the surface at Mr. Bejo’s floodgate, in Jakarta’s Manggarai neighborhood, included a motorcycle helmet, sandals, soccer balls, Styrofoam containers, a bicycle inner tube and a pillow.

There was some natural debris, too: banana trees and a dead rat.

Jakarta’s clogged waterways are not just a minor irritant and eyesore. They amount to a serious urban environmental problem that has killed dozens of people during flooding in recent years, caused countless illnesses, displaced more than one million people and led to billions of dollars in losses.

Throughout its modern history, Jakarta has had problems with water. The capital lies along the Java Sea at the end of a river delta, so, by its very topography, it is already prone to flooding during the rainy season, which begins this month.

In addition, cyclical tidal surges erode its coastline and flood nearby neighborhoods — both affluent and poor — forcing the national government to heighten existing sea walls and to draft plans to build a series of new ones.

Adding insult to injury, the northern half of the capital is sinking at an average rate of two to three inches a year because of excessive groundwater extraction over the last three decades, one of the fastest rates of sinking in any city in the world.

Jakarta’s flooding problem has become exponentially worse for two reasons. First, the national government and city officials did no proper dredging or waterway maintenance between 1970 and 2010 — despite repeatedly claiming that it had been carried out.

Second, unchecked development in the greater Jakarta region, which is now home to more than 30 million people, meant retention ponds, swampland and other open spaces that normally absorb rainwater were paved over for shopping malls and apartment blocks.

That mismanagement took its toll. Since the mid-1990s, Jakarta has experienced major floods every five years or so, along with smaller floods each year.

In 2002, more than 60 residents were killed and 350,000 were forced from their homes by massive flooding. In 2007, nearly 70 percent of the city was submerged by floodwaters that killed 52 people and displaced more than 450,000.

And in 2013, torrential rains caused a nearly 100-foot-long section of a dike in Jakarta’s Dutch-built West Flood Canal to collapse, completely flooding the city center. Other parts of the city were also inundated, killing at least 46 people.

The head of Jakarta’s public works department estimated that only 20 percent of the city’s sewage drains worked properly. The rest were clogged with garbage, debris and utility cables.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the first dredging program in four decades began in Jakarta, carried out by both the city government and the national Ministry of Public Works, and supported by a $189 million grant from the World Bank that followed years of negotiations.

The project, which is continuing, has protected an estimated one million additional Jakarta residents from flooding, said Iwan Gunawan, a senior disaster management adviser at the World Bank in Jakarta.

He said there had been an estimated 120 million cubic feet of sediment — both man-made and natural — in 10 rivers and waterways that are being dredged and rehabilitated with the grant’s support.

“The 2007 floods inundated more than half the city, and really became a wake-up call for decision makers,” Mr. Iwan said.

“The question was, if the river system was returned to its normal condition, what would the improvement be?” he said. “The answer was that an additional one million people will be safe from floods, which is pretty good.”

But he added that both the national and Jakarta governments needed to “install a maintenance mentality” for the city’s waterways to prevent the clogging problem from returning, as public education campaigns against littering have been ineffective at best.

A short walk along the banks of the Ciliwung River from Mr. Bejo’s floodgate, Manutur Sitanggang, the foreman of a floating excavator crew, said they dig up around 35,000 cubic feet of sediment each day, as they try to restore that section of the river back to a depth of 20 feet.

Working in shifts from sunup to sundown, and battling strong currents, the 10-person team dumps the sediment on the riverbanks before hauling it by truck to a landfill outside the city.

“We see a lot of stuff — clothes, kitchen tools, dead cats,” Mr. Manutur said. “It can get mind-numbingly boring.”

Early indications are the dredging is helping, at least in some areas of the city.

In Teluk Gong, a riverside slum along the Angke Bawah River in North Jakarta, residents have dealt with flooding for years.

Many live in ramshackle wooden houses along the riverbanks, making their living as day laborers or at food carts. On a recent day, the stench from an open garbage dump occasionally wafted through the unpaved streets.

Miftah Wicaksono, 52, operates a small boat that transports people across the river.

“Everyone is happier when there are no floods,” he said, since the rising waters mean getting onto rooftops, sometimes for hours on end, and continually mopping out houses.

Khaeroh Hasanah, 35, runs a small open-air stand that sells snacks, drinks, cigarettes and toiletries.

“It’s been good because I haven’t had to spend time cleaning up stinky mud after the floods,” she said. “I feel safer for sure, and I hope it’s a long time before we have a flood here again.”

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Indonesia`s biosphere reserve management for sustainable development: Minister Marsudi

Antara 3 Oct 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Foreign Affairs Minister Retno LP Marsudi has said managing the biosphere reserves in Indonesia is part of the governments commitment to sustainable development.

The minister made the statement while receiving Indonesian Ambassador to France and the Permanent Representative to UNESCO, Hotmangaradja Pandjaitan, who delivered a certificate of UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) for Indonesia, here on Monday.

The designation of Belambangan as the worlds 11th biosphere reserve reflects the recognition that the international community accords to Indonesias natural wealth which must be protected, Minister Marsudi stated.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Belambangan, spread over four districts---Banyuwangi, Jember, Bondowoso and Situbondo--- in East Java, as a biosphere reserve.

The decision was taken during a session of the International Coordinating Council (ICC) Program of Man and the Biosphere (MAB), held in Lima, Peru, in March 2016.

The Blambangan biosphere reserve comprises three national parks, namely, Alas Purwo, Baluran and Meru, as well as one nature reserve - Kawah Ijen.

The reserve consists of terrestrial and marine ecosystems featuring karst landscapes, savannah and different types of forests including alpine/subalpine, upper, dry and lower montane (mountain), lowland, coastal and mangrove.

The site also features seagrass beds and coral reefs. The main economic activities of the biosphere reserve are agriculture and horticulture, as well as agroforestry (teak and mahogany).

Mangroves are also present in the biosphere reserve and coral reef ecosystems can be found in the buffer zone. More than 300 species of fish have been identified and the reefs are dominated by coral species of the Acropora genus.

The region is a biodiversity hotspot with many faunal species including the Banteng or Javanese wild bull (Bos javanicus), the Christmas frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi), the green peafowl (Pavo muticus) and the endangered Javan leopard (Panthera pardus). In addition, four species of sea turtles nest on the south and east coast of Alas Purwo National Park: the olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas).

"The inclusion of Belambangan in the world biosphere reserve network is expected to benefit conservation and research, and to support sustainable development beneficial to local communities," she noted.

(Reported by Yuni Arisandy /Uu.F001/INE/KR-BSR/A014)

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Vietnam: Mass fish deaths hit Hanoi's West Lake

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 3 Oct 16;

HANOI: Tonnes of dead fish washed up in Hanoi’s largest freshwater lake over the weekend, prompting the city's mayor to call it an unprecedented mass fish death, and raising questions about water pollution in the Vietnamese capital.

Witnesses said they started seeing dead fish on Friday (Oct 3) in Hanoi's West Lake - one of the city's popular scenic spots - with the situation worsening over the weekend.

Nguyen Duc Chung, Chairman of Hanoi People's Committee, told Channel NewsAsia: “This is the first time an incident of this kind is happening in Hanoi’s West Lake. We have mobilised all available forces to collect [the dead fish], to not let any environmental disaster hit the city. We’re trying to find the cause so that we can prevent this from happening to the city’s other lakes.”

More than a thousand people, including the military, have been deployed in clean-up operations, with some using small nets and even straw baskets to scoop up the rotting fish by hand. About 60 tonnes of rotting fish has been collected so far.

An estimated 4,000 cubic metres of untreated wastewater is discharged into the lake every day from homes and businesses, according to the lake’s management board. According to VnExpress International, authorities said that some of the dead fish have been sent for testing to determine the cause of death.

Vietnam is still reeling from an industrial incident that wiped out the seafood industry on its central coast earlier this year, linked to Taiwan’s Formosa Steel.

Thousands protested on Sunday against a steel plant run by one of the company's units, Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, which has admitted that its US$10.6 billion steel plant was responsible for massive fish deaths along a 200-kilometre stretch of coastline in April.

- CNA/nc

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Bid for strongest protection for all African elephants defeated at wildlife summit

Cites meeting blocks proposal for ban on all trade of ivory from four southern African countries with stable or increasing elephant populations - but passes other vital conservation measures
Damian Carrington The Guardian 3 Oct 16;

A bid to give the highest level of international legal protection to all African elephants was defeated on Monday at a global wildlife summit.

The EU played a pivotal role in blocking the proposal, which was fought over by rival groups of African nations.

But the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), meeting this week in Johannesburg, passed other new measures for elephants that conservationists say will add vital protection.

All 182 nations agreed for the first time that legal ivory markets within nations must be closed. Separately, a process that could allow one-off sales of ivory stockpiles was killed and tougher measures to deal with nations failing to control poached ivory were agreed.

More than 140,000 of Africa’s savannah elephants were killed for their ivory between 2007 and 2014, wiping out almost a third of their population, and one elephant is still being killed by poachers every 15 minutes on average. The price of ivory has soared threefold since 2009, leading conservationists to fear the survival of the species is at risk.

The acrimonious debate over elephant poaching has split African countries. Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which host about a third of all remaining elephants, have stable or increasing populations. They argue passionately that elephant numbers are also suffering from loss of habitat and killings by farmers and that they can only be protected by making money from ivory sales and trophy hunting.

However, a group of 29 African nations, which host about 40% of all elephants and are led by Kenya and Benin, have smaller and plummeting populations and countered that poaching and the illegal trade in ivory is the greatest threat.

Most African elephants already have the highest level of international legal protection – a Cites “appendix 1” listing – which bans all trade. But the elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, are listed on “appendix 2”, a lower level of protection. On Monday a proposal to add the elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana to appendix 1 was defeated.

Critics said the proposal would do little to protect elephants as all international trade is already banned, but proponents argued it was a crucial signal to poachers and criminals of a global crackdown on the illegal ivory trade. Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population, about a third of all elephants, and it is growing. But it broke ranks with Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe and argued vehemently for appendix 1 protection.

Tshekedi Khama, Botswana’s minister of environment, said: “There is concerning evidence that elephant poaching is moving south. The criminal networks that facilitate much of this trade are highly organised and fluid, operating over several regions in the continent. Therefore no population should be considered secure. Put simply, a threat to elephants anywhere is a threat to elephants everywhere.”

The Cote D’Ivoire delegate said it was absurd to have some elephants on appendix 1 and some on appendix 2: “An elephant that crosses a border may have protection on one side and not on the other. Elephants do not have passports.”

Lee White, the British-born director of Gabon’s national parks and Cites delegate, said poachers were now shooting on sight at his rangers. The upgrading of all elephants to the highest protection would have sent “a signal that we will come down as hard on poaching as we do on the trafficking of drugs, arms and people”.

However, Namibia’s delegate threatened to withdraw entirely from Cites protections for elephants if the all populations were upgraded the highest levels. “It is completely fallacious that legal ivory trade covers illegal trade,” he said, a statement flatly rejected by other nations.

South Africa’s environment minister, Edna Molewa, said rural communities must benefit from elephants if they are to tolerate the damage caused to crops and the lives sometimes lost. “We dare not ignore their voices,” she said. “Trophy hunting is the best return on investment [in elephant protection] with the least impact.”

The EU, which with 28 votes is a powerful force at Cites, also opposed the upgrade to appendix 1. It said that Cites rules meant the highest level protection is reserved for populations that are in steep decline, and that this did not apply to the elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Some scientific and conservation groups agreed with this, including WWF, Traffic and the Zoological Society of London, arguing the integrity of the Cites was at risk.

The EU delegate to Cites said: “The proposal does not meet the biological criteria. [But] this does not mean in any way we are not concerned about the decline of elephants across the continent.” Several nations said cutting the demand for ivory, through education, and better enforcement against poachers were key.

The issue was forced to a vote and was defeated, leaving the southern African elephants on appendix 2. Earlier on Monday, Namibia and Zimbabwe had attempted to legalise the trade in ivory from those countries.

Namibia said its elephant population had doubled to 20,000 in the last 15 years. Charles Jonga, from the Campfire Programme, a rural development group in Zimbabwe, told the Cites summit: “The people in my community say: ‘These elephants they eat our crops, they damage our houses, what benefit do we get?’ If they get benefits, they will protect and not poach.”

But Patrick Omondi, Kenya’s delegate, said: “Poaching levels and trafficking in ivory are at their highest peak. History has shown the ivory trade cannot be controlled. We are reaching a tipping point and need to give elephants time to recover.”

Both Namibia’s and Zimbabwe’s proposals, supported by Japan but opposed by the EU and US, were soundly defeated. Observers believe Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa did not expect to unpick the ban on the ivory trade at this summit, but wanted to keep the debate open, in the hope of future success. Another proposal, from Swaziland, to legalise the trade in its rhino horn was heavily defeated.

Many conservation groups wanted all elephants to get the highest protection, but Tom Milliken, an elephant expert from wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic, said: “Where elephants fall on the Cites appendices is inconsequential to their survival. All the paper protection in the world is not going to compensate for poor law enforcement, rampant corruption and ineffective management.”

He said the real success of the summit were measures to crack down on countries failing to halt illegal trade.

But Kelvin Alie, at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said the failure to put all elephants on appendix one was a disaster: “This is a tragedy for elephants. At a time when we are seeing such a dramatic increase in the slaughter of elephants for ivory, now was the time for the global community to step up and say no more.”

World's nations agree elephant ivory markets must close
With poachers killing an elephant every 15 minutes on average, the pressure to shut down the legal trade in ivory is intensifying
Damian Carrington The Guardian 2 Oct 16;

Legal ivory markets across the globe must be urgently closed in order to combat the elephant poaching crisis, according to an agreement struck by 182 nations on Sunday.

The decision is significant in intensifying the pressure on countries that still host such markets, which conservationists say provide cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), gathered this week in Johannesburg, agreed for the first time in its history that national ivory markets should be closed rather than regulated. All international trade in ivory is banned but many countries allow antique and other ivory pieces to be bought and sold domestically.

Domestic ivory markets are a highly controversial issue, but the Cites nations agreed unanimously that every country should “take all necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory as a matter of urgency.”

More than 140,000 of Africa’s savannah elephants were killed for their ivory between 2007 and 2014, wiping out almost a third of their population, and elephants are still being killed every 15 minutes on average.

“There is no legal market that doesn’t contribute to the illegal trade,” said Susan Lieberman, at the Wildlife Conservation Society. The Cites decision is not legally binding, she said: “But there is now the will of the global community to see the end of domestic ivory markets. There is renewed hope for Africa’s elephants today.”

Robert Hepworth, a former chair of Cites’ top committee and now at the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, said the decision would exert real political pressure: “If your country has a domestic ivory market, this does have a tangible effect.”

The final wording of the decision was a compromise and specified domestic ivory markets that are “contributing to poaching or illegal trade”, a potential loophole. Daniela Freyer, at the Pro Wildlife group, said: “Today’s decision is a step forward. However, the European Union and a small minority of southern African countries are to be blamed for watering down the motion. Elephants deserve better.”

“We believe domestic ivory markets are driving poaching across Africa,” said Patrick Omondi, a member of the delegation from Kenya, which co-chairs the African Elephant Coalition, a group of 29 countries which want a crackdown on the ivory trade. “But we are happy with the decision: it was the best we could get.”

China, the largest domestic ivory market, had argued against the loophole, a move seen as major progress. It has already committed to close its own ivory markets but has not yet given a deadline. Japan, another large domestic market, said on Friday its market did not contain illegal ivory, although a new Environmental Investigation Agency report claims to show evidence of illegal activity.

International pressure to close domestic ivory markets is building. Nations at a major conservation summit in September also agreed the domestic trade in ivory should end. In September, the UK banned the domestic sale of ivory younger than 70 years old, though critics said the move fell short of the total ban needed. In June, the US imposed a near total domestic ban.

The Cites nations also agreed for the first time that destruction is an option for the disposal of seized ivory stockpiles, a course already taken by 22 nations. There was further action as well on countries which seen as failing to tackle the illegal ivory trade, with tougher reporting requirements. Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon and Nigeria should all have reported on the measures they are implementing, but have not.

The most controversial debates on the poaching crisis will come on Monday, when Cites decides on a proposal by southern African nations to overturn the ban on selling ivory and a rival proposal from 29 other African countries which aims to elephant protections even stricter.

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African grey parrot has global summit to thank for protected status

Convention in Johannesburg votes to end all international trade in popular pet birds whose populations have plummeted
Damian Carrington The Guardian 2 Oct 16;

The loquacious African grey parrot, one of the most illegally trafficked birds in the world, has been talking itself towards extinction for years thanks to its reputation as a gregarious and long-living pet.

On Sunday it was given extra protection after a global wildlife summit agreed a ban on the international trade.

“If this bird could talk, the African grey parrot would say thank you,” said Susan Lieberman, of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Now, with the protection, the voice of the African grey parrot will not be silenced across the great forests of Africa.”

Between 2 and 3 million of the parrots have been taken from the wild in the past 40 years and populations of the species have plummeted across its range in west, central and eastern Africa.

The 182 nations gathered in Johannesburg for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) tackled the crisis on Thursday, but only after an acrimonious debate and a rare secret vote. The result went 95 to 35 in favour of awarding the African grey the highest level of protection, which bans all international trade. Captive-bred birds can still be traded but only if facilities register with Cites.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, home to the largest African grey parrot population, argued strenuously against the new ban, saying it was based on a “doubtful hypothesis yet to be proved”. But the proposal, put forward by Gabon and six other African nations plus the EU and US, was passed, with the Ivory Coast delegate saying: “Birds know no borders, so we have to work together.”

Colman O’Criodain, of WWF, said: “A total ban on international commercial trade in wild African grey parrots is a huge step forward and will help to protect this extraordinary species from the rampant trapping and trading that has contributed to population collapses and local extinctions across Africa in recent decades.

“Fraud and corruption have enabled traffickers to vastly exceed current quotas and continue to harvest unsustainable numbers of African grey parrots from Congo’s forests to feed the illegal trade. Banning the trade will make it easier for law enforcement agencies to crack down on the poachers and smugglers and give the remaining wild populations some much-needed breathing space.”

The African grey parrot is a popular pet not only for its ability to chat, but also for its longevity: it can live up to 50 years. One famous African grey, called Alex, lived to 30 and was able to communicate using 100 words.

The African grey is a gregarious bird, making it easy for trappers to cast nets over flocks of dozens at a time. But about 50% of the birds die before reaching their destination.

Feathers flew among the Cites nations over a proposal to downgrade the protection for the world’s fastest creature, the peregrine falcon. It currently has the highest level of protection, following a plunge in its population from the 1950s to the 1970s as pesticides, including DDT, wrought havoc. Persecution by farmers and egg collecting also hit the falcons’ numbers.

However, the population has rebounded and there are now about 300,000 spread all over the globe. The raptor has adapted to the spread of towns and cities by learning to catch feral pigeons. Furthermore, only 500 or so falcons are officially traded every year, almost all of which are bred in captivity, according to Canada, which led the proposal.

The downgrade was supported by Arab states, where falconry is popular. “It is part of our history and heritage,” said the delegate from the UAE, who said falcon “passports” ensured only captive-bred falcons were used. Some conservation groups also backed the downgrade. “The recovery of this species from catastrophic decline is one of the great conservation success stories,” said O’Criodain. “It is time this is recognised.”

However, the Pro-Wildlife conservation group said several local populations were still vulnerable, especially those with unusual colour variations, which can fetch $50,000 on the black market.

The EU opposed the downgrade, arguing it would increase the demand for wild-caught falcons. Iran’s delegate also opposed it, claiming that 300 illegally caught peregrines had been seized in one operation in 2014. “We have a very big problem with poachers all around the country, and even the injuring or killing of wildlife rangers,” he said.

The proposal was forced to a vote and was defeated 57-52.

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'Indiana Jones' shark gains protection at Cites meeting

Matt McGrath BBC 4 Oct 16;

Known for its long whip-like tail, the threatened Thresher shark is among a number of marine species given extra protection at the Cites meeting.

Devil rays and Silky sharks have also been given additional safeguards.

These shark species have seen huge population falls over the past decades, due to the demands of the shark fin trade.
Devil rays are valued for the gill plates which are used in Chinese medicine.

Campaigners believe the safeguards under Cites will make a real difference to these species survival.

Few sharks protected

It's estimated that around 100 million sharks of all types are killed in commercial fisheries - with their fins often destined for markets in China and Hong Kong.

Despite the scale of the fishing, there are just eight species given some protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

At the previous Cites meeting in Thailand in 2013, hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks were added to Appendix II as well as all species of manta rays.

Appendix II means that trade is allowed but it has to be shown to be sustainable.

Now the silky and thresher sharks have also acquired this same level of protection.

Thresher sharks are at the highest risk of extinction among all pelagic sharks and are described as vulnerable by the IUCN.

"These are incredible animals, with their long whip like tails they're referred to as the Indiana Jones of the sea," said Luke Warwick with Pew Charitable Trusts.

"They stun the fish with their tails and can pick them up easily. These are species that divers want to see but they are being driven to extinction by unsustainable trade.

"Cites now has a chance to stop that because if countries want to continue to trade thresher shark fins they will have to make sure those fisheries are sustainable."

Smooth operator

Silky sharks, named for the smooth texture of their skin, are found all around the world in warmer, tropical waters. In much of the Atlantic and Pacific ocean their populations are decreasing, with estimates of a 70% reduction in numbers in almost every area where these sharks are found.

The silky is known for its strong sense of hearing which helps it to hunt tuna, octopus and squid - However this taste for tuna often causes their demise, as they chase their prey at speed and don't see fishing nets until it is too late.

Devil rays, also known as mobula rays, can jump from the water and reach heights of up to 2 metres, staying airborne for several seconds. But these flat fliers are also deep divers. Experts say they can go down to around 2km below the surface for 60-90 minutes.

One big vulnerability for devil rays is their tendency to aggregate in large numbers, making them very easy prey for targeted fishing.

What's driving the market for these large brained curious creatures is traditional Chinese medicine. The dried gill plates are used in a soup that's supposed to treat fever and help nursing mothers.

"These are very vulnerable animals, nine different species, only one young every two to three years," said Dr Andy Cornish from WWF.

"When they are targeted by fishermen the available evidence is that the decline very rapidly."

Despite opposition from Japan and Iceland, the votes for all these species were won with very large majorities of between 70% and 80%. This is very different from three years ago at the last Cites Conference of the Parties in Thailand when the vote to protect three shark species gained the necessary majority with just one vote to spare. There is a possibility that the votes could be overturned in the plenary session of the Conference on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Assuming these decisions stand, this is a big win for all these species of sharks and rays as governments around the world will now have to act to reduce the overfishing that threatens them," said Dr Cornish.

"Countries have now bought into the idea of listing sharks and rays, they are increasingly convinced that Appendix II listing leads to better data, improved management and a more sustainable trade - that's a real breakthrough."

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