Best of our wild blogs: 9 Oct 16

15 Oct (Sat) - Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Life History of Green Baron v2.0
Butterflies of Singapore

Birding West Coast Park
Singapore Bird Group

Hunting, not deforestation, biggest threat to Southeast Asian biodiversity: Study

Read more!

Plastic bag charge unpopular but necessary: Eugene Tay, Zero Waste SG

Bharati Jagdish, 938LIVE Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: Eugene Tay has divided opinion, and in recent weeks, the issue has been plastic bags, and the possibility of a plastic bag charge.

A trained environmental engineer, the Executive Director of Zero Waste SG is also Founder and Director of Green Futures Solutions, a sustainability consultancy that helps companies and organisations address environmental challenges and identify green opportunities.

Tay started Zero Waste SG eight years ago and has since then been campaigning against the use of plastics in general, food waste and promoting recycling. In a recent position paper, it recommended that the government make it mandatory for retailers to charge for plastic bags. Tay says he’s not advocating a ban, but a reduction in usage.

He went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about getting Singaporeans on board when it comes to environmental issues, whether he expects the government to act on his recommendations and how he’s taking consumers’ criticisms of his recent proposals.

Eugene Tay: I look at things over a 10-year horizon and if we want to continue the work that we do we basically have to ignore some people in order to focus all our attention and energy on people who are willing to listen, willing to change. It's hard for anyone to change mindsets nowadays because we are so distracted. So it's not easy, but we just have to convince people who are willing to listen. And if we have enough time then we’ll go and convince those who don't want to listen. That's always a challenge.

The main issue is that households are using the bags to bag their refuse. It’s true and we acknowledged in our paper that most households reuse the bags to bag their refuse so that's a given fact but we still find that people have excess bags. Our survey showed that almost 60 per cent of households actually have more than 20 bags just lying around at home and these eventually get thrown away or litter the grounds and seas. So definitely we have more bags than we need to bag our refuse.

In our paper we also mentioned that some plastic bags can be exempted from the charge - for example, plastic bags that are used to carry raw food, chilled or frozen food. So those bags can be free so you can still use those free bags to bag your refuse. And just buy what you need.

Bharati: What made you want to pursue this cause?

Tay: For me it started 20-odd years ago. At that time we didn't really learn about environmental issues in school. It was early days. The first time I came across what we are doing to the environment is through a book called, “Save the Earth”. That was the first time I got into contact with environmental issues, what we are doing to the environment, global warming, deforestation and things like that. So it was like taking the red pill. If you’ve watched “The Matrix”, you know if you take the red pill, you’ll go down the rabbit hole and there's no turning back. From that point onward, I knew I would probably do something related to the environment.


Bharati: So what is your lifestyle like day-to-day. How green are you?

Tay: I'm still trying my best. I hardly buy stuff because I don’t believe in waste. I mean I don't really shop that much, but if I buy something, I use it for a long time. What I’m wearing today is rather new, probably 3 or 4 years. But I have shirts that are 20 years old and I still wear them. I try to extend the lifespan of things. Recycling and reducing disposables. I guess I'm still trying my best.

I'm more moderate. I take a more balanced approach because I think if you become too extreme, it alienates people. There are activists who take it to extremes. For example, there’s one who has managed to generate so little trash over the last few years that it all fits in a small jar. Some people might think that is the norm for an environmentalist, but it’s not true. You don’t have to jump to that level immediately, and it’s not difficult to start the journey slowly. I want to convince the moderates who are neutral right now to get them to care more about the environment. So sometimes, being extreme turns them away.

Bharati: As far as you know, do other activists actually think of you as too tame?

Tay: Probably, but I guess each group or each individual will have their own stand, so we need all these diverse voices, whether it is extreme, whether it is moderate or whether it is in collaboration with the government or businesses. We need all these different voices and each group plays their own part in moving the environmental movement forward in Singapore.

For me, I am not just looking at individual actions but I am more interested in systematic changes, in how can we implement policies and get the businesses to do things from a systematic point of view. I think for a long time we have been promoting individual actions; some have worked, some have not worked. I think we don't have the time to persuade people one-by-one. I think we need to look at changing the systems, whether it is the government policies, business models.

Bharati: You worked for the National Environment Agency for a while.

Tay: That was a long time ago, my first job.

Bharati: You’ve said government agencies are not moving fast enough in getting consumers and businesses to be more green. Since you’ve worked there before, what do you know about why they’re not moving fast enough?

Tay: The government can do a lot of things but there are also other things that the government can’t move that fast on because they have to take into consideration the different stakeholders, the public, consumers or even businesses. There are a lot of things that the government has to take into consideration before implementing a policy. I can understand the constraints, so when we come up with our recommendations, we try to balance it out, do a proper study, and think about how our recommendations can make sense for Singapore.

Bharati: While you understand the constraints, to what extent was it these constraints that made you not want to continue working at the NEA?

Tay: I guess I wanted to explore different things. I did my Masters and started my own business. I prefer that freedom of doing what I want to do.


Bharati: You have acknowledged the government has constraints and may not be able to move fast; yet over the years you’ve urged the government to take certain steps. For instance, you’ve recommended the government impose a quota on businesses when it comes to the use of plastics. But even after your paper on plastic bags was released, MP Lee Bee Wah, Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Water Resources said that when it comes to plastic bags, it should be the big supermarkets’ duty to carry out this proposal. She said the government should be looking at education, at bigger issues on the environment, not just plastic bags, per se. Considering this, why do you still think that the government could intervene?

Tay: I think the government should always set the direction. The big retailers are just waiting for each other. Because if it is they who introduce the charge first, they worry that their customers will go to their competitors, who don’t charge for bags. They’ve said that they’ll only do it if it is industry-wide. That requires the government to step in and say that it is a regulation. Make it mandatory so that all the big retailers and small retailers have to follow that. The government must set the direction and then the companies will know what to do.

Bharati: We’ll talk more about businesses in a moment. But based on what’s been happening so far and what was said recently, it’s possible that the government would leave it to businesses and not step in. Maybe in the larger scheme of things, the government doesn’t see this as a priority. What do you think?

Tay: I guess for the government maybe the plastic bag issue is not that urgent which requires regulation right now. Maybe it will be down the road. We have a pragmatic government so we do things after consideration, after looking at the economic, environmental and social impacts. There are differences in the priorities or whether it is crucial enough for the government to implement something.

For things like mosquito breeding, there’s (a) massive campaign. But they also have campaigns for things like recycling. So it seems they see it as important, but still not that urgent. When we talk about waste disposal, our current capacity for the incineration plant is sufficient. We also know that the Semakau landfill is going to run out of capacity, but only in 20 years time, so we still have that time period to think of new solutions. So they don’t see it as a very serious problem that needs a very drastic measure now.

No one is going to die because you don't recycle, right? But someone is going to die if you don't take care of mosquitoes or public hygiene. I guess the priorities are different. The concern is there, but when we think (when) we should do it, the point in time will vary.

So today, we probably won't see a lot of drastic action on waste or recycling now, but that doesn't mean that we won’t see that in the future, because as we move closer to the reduction of the lifespan of the landfill, we definitely need more action.

Bharati: You clearly disagree. You think now is the time for more drastic action?

Tay: We are in a transition period where we move to a more sustainable future. How much time do we have before things like climate change hit us bad - scientists have shown that that period is getting shorter before we reach some tipping points, not just for climate change but in terms of the different environmental tipping points. We are probably close to or have even exceeded some tipping points in terms of some material use. So to me personally, of course I hope that it would be faster. I will try my best through the organisation to make things faster, but I'm also a pragmatic environmentalist so I'm realistic.

We have been talking about plastic bag reduction over the past 10 years. We can always do another 10 years of education and voluntary measures. Sure, we can do that all right but will we really see the impact? Or should we look at a measure that's not popular but probably is necessary.

If we look at other countries, of course in the beginning, the residents will complain but the results have been surprisingly good. The UK has reduced plastic bag use by 90 per cent. It shows that a clear and simple rule is what works. If you think too much then of course you cannot reach a decision, but sometimes it is the most simple, clear rule that helps the consumer to understand that there's no two ways about it. The message is bring your own reusable bags. If you need a bag, just take enough but pay 10 cents for it.


Bharati: A person could use fewer bags as a result of a plastic bag charge, but be completely environmentally unfriendly in other aspects of their lives. So ultimately, how much of a difference would a plastic bag charge really make? Shouldn’t you be focusing on more effective education?

Tay: Definitely it's necessary to continue education. So for plastic bags we know that of course plastics are made from non-renewable sources. When we burn them, they produce carbon emissions. They contribute to the climate change problem. Plastic bags that end up as litter on the streets can accumulate water and cause mosquito breeding, but plastic bags can also end up in our oceans. The annual coastal cleanup in Singapore resulted in almost 15,000 plastic bags being collected from our shores. So both from the perspectives of the use of resources to the waste problem, these are issues we should take care of.

Globally, I think the United Nations mentioned that almost 8 million plastics end up in our oceans annually. And globally, they need to spend about 8 billion dollars just to clear up marine litter, whether it's plastics or other types of stuff. It has an effect on fisheries, effects on tourism and of course, there is the cleanup cost. So there are other environmental costs associated with a free bag. So when we say it's free, it's not actually free. There are other environmental causes to it.

Bharati: Granted, but I’m a captive audience. I will listen to you. But how do you plan to convince the majority of Singaporeans that this is something they should care about and act on? You told me this issue first came up for discussion 10 years ago in Singapore, and it divided opinion then. Today, 10 years later, people are still so divided on this issue. Maybe your organization and all the other environmental NGOs’ efforts to educate the public have not worked. You've failed.

Tay: In a way that's true, but in a way, that's not true too because we have definitely seen more people using their own reusable bags. We did a consumer survey for this paper. During the survey we also looked at whether consumers actually brought their own reusable bags and we found that out of the almost 450 respondents, 15 per cent bring their own reusable bags. That's a small amount but it’s still 15 per cent. If we did not have that campaign 10 years ago, we may not even have that 15 per cent.

Bharati: But this could be due to the efforts of some supermarkets like NTUC and retailers like Ikea.

Tay: Yes. So the Green Rewards Scheme works. But I think NTUC also mentioned that it costs them half a million dollars just to sustain that program. If you look at it in the long term, if you get more retailers on board, some of the smaller retailers may not be able to subsidise the cost. Is it the companies or is it the government who is going to subsidise the cost of giving these incentives? So we are wondering whether it is sustainable in the long run.

We can continue the education and voluntary measures over the next 10 years. But we're not sure if it is that effective. If we look at what is happening around the world now, some countries like UK, HK have shown good results with a plastic bag charge, so why shouldn’t we do it?

Bharati: Sure, but what about the issue I brought up earlier? A person could use fewer bags as a result of a plastic bag charge, but be completely environmentally unfriendly in other aspects of their lives. What are you planning to do as an environmental activist, to make education more effective, since it seems educational efforts have failed? Merely urging the government to impose legislation can’t be all there is to it?

Tay: In terms of education, I think in general there are 2 big problems. One is that the government is too effective. When we throw something away it just disappears as if there is a magic place called “away”. It ends up in our incineration plant or landfill but we don't really see that because the government and the cleaners clean up very fast. We don't actually see the problem.

The second issue is that we import a lot of stuff here in Singapore, so we don't really see what goes into manufacturing things. We look at the price. We look at how nice it is, but we don't look at the backstory. We don't look at how it's being produced, how it's being disposed of. So I think we need to link the whole story of products and materials back to their impact. We need to close the loop.

We don’t have a pay-as-you-throw system. And I understand why. From the government’s point of view, there are different considerations. One big consideration is manpower, so we want to reduce the reliance on foreign manpower. So having a more efficient pneumatic waste disposal system helps to reduce the manpower reliance. But in the long term, if our kids don't really see the waste, or smell the waste, will they want to reduce the waste? I think that is a problem also.

So even if they introduce the pneumatic waste disposal system, we can still remind people. People should be made to visit incineration plants to understand that our waste doesn't go away. There's no magic place, it ends up in our incineration plant. So it's also to show our future generations how waste is being disposed of in Singapore.

Bharati: Questions also continue to be asked whether environmental efforts generally are worth the cost, and this is not just in terms of money, but in terms of the cost to the environment. For instance, recycling also involves processes that can be detrimental to the environment, so is recycling all that it's made out to be? What do you have to say to such things?

Tay: I guess that's why it is important to do a life cycle assessment and I think the waste disposal companies do this. A life cycle assessment looks at the environmental impacts whether it is water, climate, greenhouse gas, energy usage, waste from the production to the final disposal or recycling. We look at the environmental impacts across the whole value chain, and from there we can compare the environmental impacts and say which is better.

It varies country-to-country because of the shipment impacts as well. Even if you look at plastic disposables, there are different alternatives to plastics whether it is paper, bio plastics or some other kinds of new plastics. I'm glad the government has come in and said that they are doing a life cycle assessment of plastic disposables, so they are comparing the environmental impacts of the different materials. So once we have that kind of information then we can sort of recommend what type of alternative is better.

Bharati: In the meantime, while the infrastructure is there, people aren’t really sure what’s worth recycling and what isn’t. Surely, as an NGO this is something you could build awareness about. There’s no need to only depend on government for this.

Tay: Yes. We realise there’s a lack of engagement and we are planning to do something about it. No one is telling you what can or cannot be recycled or what happens to the recyclables. Of course the information is available on the government websites, but that's passive. There's no one who is engaging you on recycling.

What we're trying to do is to directly engage the residents and also tell them what can or cannot be recycled and what happens to the recyclables. Hopefully, we can have some videos showing what is happening at the recycling plant to show that the recyclables in the bin are actually sorted and recycled.

The government started the national recycling program almost 14 years ago, but for myself, even personally, I have not seen the recycling collector over these 14 years. We know that the bin is there but I have not actually seen the recycling collector. There’s no engagement with the recycling collector. This is one of the things we hope to address with our new campaign called: Let’s Recycle Together. We’re hoping to set up something like an education centre in neighbourhoods and a place where residents are engaged when they bring down their recyclables.

I think we are pushing a lot of responsibility back to the schools so the schools now have to educate the people on recycling. They have to educate the kids on mosquitoes. They have to educate the kids on cleanliness, saving water, everything right? How is the child going to cope with all this information? I think we need to have that kind of education in school, but ultimately, it is the parents who need to set the example.

Some kids when they learn in school, they go back home and they tell their parents they should recycle or reduce their use of plastic bags, but the parents say "don't bother” and things like that. If the parent is not setting the example, the children will not develop the habit. They can learn it in school but the formation of the habit has to be done at home.

We also look at food waste. Aside from targeting consumers, we give talks to schools and companies as well. But we are also looking at reaching out to the community. There’s still a big group of people who are not bad people. They just don't understand the connection between what they do and the environmental impact. We just have to tell them how it's related.


Bharati: Many have not taken well to your call for a mandatory plastic bag charge. Why place the burden on the consumer? I know the idea is to reduce consumer demand so that businesses will change. But can’t you apply more pressure on businesses to take the first step? Experts say businesses have to do more because this is a complex issue involving them and their processes and supply chains. This goes beyond plastic bags. What are you doing to make consumers aware of the complexities of this, the economics and actually dealing with businesses head on?

Tay: Definitely. We can go to the companies, but I guess what we want to do is a more balanced approach. We want companies to be on board and then we want to discuss with them potential solutions so the only way for that to happen is when we are not thinking about it as “us versus them”.

Once you have that mentality, it constrains the trust and the opportunity to work together. So definitely this problem of plastic bags or environmental problems in general are becoming a more complex issue so we need the government, businesses, NGOs and ground action to work together. There needs to be a sense of collaboration.

Bharati: You say the government should set the direction, but also acknowledged that the government might move too slowly. Why not go after the businesses more decisively?

Tay: We can do that but we have limited resources. If we talk to each retailer separately, the same discussion would surface that they are waiting for the other retailers to do the same. We can continue to wait for each other to take the lead or we can ask the government to come in and make it mandatory and then all the retailers will have to do it.

Bharati: What do you think is the likelihood of the government doing this?

Tay: Well, there is always the hope. We can use this paper as a catalyst to spark another debate between the retailers and the government.

Bharati: The plastics industry is a big one and the petroleum industry is also in this chain. They contribute to the economy, to employment. How do you think your agenda will be able to take priority for the government, over the business and economic interests involved here?

Tay: I think the key point is that we are not asking for a ban on plastic bags or any plastic disposables. We are looking at the excessive use or waste of plastic bags or plastic disposables. Will it affect the oil companies a lot? I don't think so, I think we know that oil or petroleum is a non-renewable resource. Studies show that we cannot just burn all the resources we have now if we want to meet the two degrees Celsius cap for climate change.

What we want to see is plastics or oil being used for energy purposes, being used for high- value plastic products, maybe plastic products that are used in the medical industry. I don’t want to see oil being used to produce plastics as a single-use plastic bag that you use for a while and throw away. To me that's a waste of a precious resource right now. We are talking about a carbon-constrained world moving forward. Singapore has a target to reduce emissions by 2030, so the trends are there. We have to reduce our carbon emissions and if we want to keep our oil resources in the ground or use them for a more meaningful purpose, then producing plastic bags that we use for a while doesn't make sense.

Bharati: The government is taking steps in other ways to meet the targets, but how do you hope to convince the government of the other issues you’ve brought up, considering the government also has to look at the underlying economic issues in this case?

Tay: I think it’s still early days. We know that when we want to implement a certain policy, we have to go through a long process of discussing, showing evidence and negotiating.

Businesses - the manufacturers, the oil companies - have to recognize that we are living in a carbon-constrained world. We are in this transition period where we have to move to a more sustainable future.

If your business model is not correct, that means you are still making products that are bad for the environment, but which are cheaper because you have not factored in the externalities of it, it means a cost to the environment. That's why is cheaper. If your business model is still based on selling products that are bad for the environment, then sorry to say, you probably can't compete in the future because the trend is there.

Resources are scarce, so unless the businesses change their business model, it'll be hard for them to sustain over the long run. When you move towards a more sustainable future, companies that are stuck in the old business model of selling things or providing services that are bad for the environment basically will just cease to exist because of their unsustainable business models.

Maybe we seem to be targeting consumers, but at the end we are also targeting the government and the businesses. Most of these things are done behind the scenes, behind closed doors.

Bharati: Doesn’t the public have the right to know though?

Tay: Well, we do speak to them about greener supply chains and the larger businesses are taking steps, but for the smaller ones, it can be a challenge. Over the years, we have recommended that the government provide incentive programmes to help them. Right now, with the plastic bag issue, the businesses say they are concerned whether the charge will affect the lower income families as well. But based on our research, if you need bags to bag your refuse, each household would need 10 bags a week. That's 520 bags a year. If you add a 10-cent charge, that's $52 a year. We're saying that if that's not affordable then maybe some companies or even the government can come in and provide some kind of help.

Bharati: Businesses will be wary of alienating their customers, but government subsidies may cause people to ask if taxpayers should be paying for this. No one, I think, will begrudge a lower income family, but should it be taxpayers’ money that is used for this particular cause?

Tay: In a way, when we don't have these kinds of measures, people keep on throwing away waste, plastic bags. All this ends up being burned in an incineration plant. So the more waste you throw, the more incineration plants we have to build. So the building of incineration plants is also taxpayers’ money, right? So it all boils down to where the money is being allocated. So instead of using money to build better incineration plants, why don’t we use the money to subsidise the lower-income families in being environmentally-friendly, if it's needed. It’s a way of using your resources to prevent the problem from being generated in the first place.


Bharati: Going back to your plastic bag charge proposal, in the meantime consumers will be the ones having to pay more for environmentally-unfriendly plastic bags and packaging and the businesses that have factored plastic bags and other forms of packaging into the price of practically all the products they sell reap the benefits. Of course retailers say they will donate the money to charity or causes, but can they be trusted and what about the manufacturers of such environmentally unfriendly materials?

Tay: So the idea is to have them switch to environmentally-friendly materials and the government is studying this.

Bharati: Environmentally-friendly materials cost more too, but some consumers say they’d rather pay more for these than pay for plastic bags. Wouldn’t that make more sense? I know the idea behind things like a plastic bag charge is to reduce the demand to the point that businesses feel the pressure to change. But wouldn’t a possibly more palatable way of achieving your goal be to mandate the use of environmentally-friendly material and get the government or businesses to subside those materials instead?

Tay: Actually, it's a chicken-and-egg thing. Most of the greener alternatives are more expensive because the demand for them is still a bit low. So the manufacturers or the distributors, because of that low demand, cannot bring in a lot of supply. There is no economies of scale so the price is slightly higher.

But I guess over time when there is a higher demand for greener alternatives the prices will definitely come down. How do we create that demand? We can get the consumers to demand or we can ask the government to put in place certain measures that can increase the demand over time. We did a position paper on plastic disposables as well, and one of the recommendations is to ask the government to look at sector measures. They can set targets or measures to reduce plastic disposables for each sector.

This includes subsides and incentives. So we're not saying ban styrofoam overnight. We say phase it out over a 10-20 year period. Every year we will reduce our use by a certain percentage. So that means maybe this year they have to have 1 per cent of their cutlery made from greener alternatives and more and more every year. Increasing the demand for greener alternatives will help bring the cost down. It also gives the retailer time to adjust.

The government could also look more seriously at sustainable procurement. The government, being a big purchaser of goods and services can say they are using paper made from sustainable sources. Once the government starts to do that in all aspects, it would increase the demand for eco-friendly products and that will sort of reduce the cost.

Bharati: As far as you know, at this point, what has the government been doing in this regard?

Tay: They have looked at energy efficient products but probably haven't looked at plastic disposables yet. So one of the things we are trying to do as a follow-up to the paper is to come up with even a list of caterers who provide non-disposables so that they can use these caterers at their events, etc. Companies who are not on this list hopefully will then start to provide these environmentally-friendly options.

The government has said that because of manpower shortages, it’s difficult to do provide non-disposables at hawker centres. So maybe there needs to be an investment in centralised or automated washing areas. We need the government to address these issues from a more holistic point of view. We need that kind of collaboration between government and businesses.

Bharati: Earlier when we were talking about pneumatic waste disposal, you mentioned that there are manpower constraints and this is why maybe a pay-as-you-throw system may not work in Singapore. Are you willing to accept that in certain areas there cannot be any regulations and maybe efforts should just not be made at all?

Tay: There are logistical and infrastructure problems. We have our current rubbish chute system so it will be a bit hard for us to implement that, but I guess that's something to think about in the long run. Also, when it comes to implementation, are we asking the households to bring the waste down to a particular area? Would that be feasible? Or would we see more illegal dumping of waste at the corridor so that they don’t have to pay. I think that's something to look at. I think in the future we will probably think of some solutions. The newer flats have a common chute and one for waste and one for recyclables. So that's one way to get people to separate their waste and their recyclables.


Bharati: What you said about illegal dumping of waste – does this happen in other countries that have a pay-as-you-throw system?

Tay: I came back from a visit to the Netherlands this year. I think they face some challenges as well. But the thing is they're willing to accept failure. If they try and it doesn't work then okay. They will just look for another solution. I think they also have a longer history of environmental awareness and education compared to Singapore.

At the end of the day, we just have to try something and see whether it works. If it doesn't work, we have to think of a better solution. Fear of failure - that's why they (companies and the government) are not willing to implement environmentally-friendly initiatives.

We are afraid that it will fail, and consumers will complain or businesses will complain that the policies have failed because we have not met all the requirements.

But I think we should be willing to try something out and if it doesn't work out then okay, we will try something else. It's this sense of willingness to try a policy. If you introduce a plastic bag charge, it might work, it might not work. If it doesn't work, we will just have to tweak it.

The willingness to bow down and admit something may have been a mistake also shows that then we have matured as a society, that we are willing to learn and try something else if that happens.

Just because this thing hasn’t worked for the past 10 years, are we going to assume that it won’t work for the next 10 years? Are we not going to try something new to make it work better? So if our narrative is still saying that our consumers would not want this kind of plastic bag charge, then we are not willing to break out of that narrative.

Forever, we will be just trapped in that narrative that Singaporeans are just too lazy to bring their own reusable bags and things like that. But I think we are willing to change if we need to. It's like bringing up a child. If you think that the child is stupid then you won't put in the resources to give tuition or to groom your child.

But if you think your child has that potential to grow, then you will provide extra tuition. Whether it is good or bad, you will provide resources to help your child grow. It's the same thing.

If you think Singaporeans are just culturally not willing to embrace something good for the environment, then you are trapped in that kind of narrative. But if you think Singaporeans in general can change, are willing to change for the sake of the environment, for the sake of future generations, then you can try something.

- CNA/rw

Read more!

MPA to Test New Procedure for Oil Spill Clean Ups in Multi-Agency Joint Oil Spill Exercise - JOSE 2016

MPA News Release 7 Oct 16;
07 October 2016

MPA to Test New Procedure for Oil Spill Clean Ups in Multi-Agency
Joint Oil Spill Exercise - JOSE 2016

The multi-agency joint oil spill exercise was conducted today as part of an on-going effort to ensure our ports remain safe, secure and clean for the international shipping community. Code-named JOSE 2016, the exercise was organised by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) as part of the closing programme for the 19th Singapore International Bunkering Conference and Exhibition (SIBCON) 2016. Close to 80 delegates from SIBCON 2016 observed the oil and chemical spill exercise today.

The ground deployment exercise will test the use of a new modern and efficient system, ‘NeatSweep’ to contain the spilled oil. Over 250 personnel from 28 agencies participated in the table top and seaward exercise that took place around the vicinity of Raffles Reserved Anchorage. (See Annex A for list of participating agencies)

The exercise scenario involved a simulated collision off Raffles Lighthouse between an arriving Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) carrying about 110,000 metric tons of Kuwait Crude Oil and a transiting tanker in the west-bound lane of the Singapore Strait. The arriving VLCC sustained damages to two cargo oil tanks, spilling approximately 10,000 metric tons of oil. Two of the crew members on-board the VLCC were injured and required immediate evacuation for medical treatment.

JOSE 2016 comprised a full-scale ground deployment and incident management exercise held to showcase multi-agency response capabilities. The exercise also serves as a platform for stakeholders to discuss and deliberate operational and policy issues to combat a major oil spill in Singapore.

Mr Andrew Tan, MPA's Chief Executive, said, "The need to protect and minimise impacts of oil spills in our waters together with our partner agencies and stakeholders is an important component of our holistic safety programme. Multi-agency efforts to conduct regular joint oil spill exercises will be on-going to test and improve our spill response strategies and technologies for use in different scenarios. Today, we are happy to have ExxonMobil Asia Pacific Pte Ltd support the Joint Oil Spill Exercise. We are pleased that together, we have demonstrated that we have a well-coordinated and competent team ready to take on the challenges.”

Boat-based dispersant spraying operations with simulated casualty tanker

Testing the new dispersant spraying system (NeatSweep)

JOSE 2016
List of Participating Organisations

1. Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore
2. ExxonMobil Asia Pacific Pte Ltd
3. National Environment Agency
4. Public Utilities Board
5. Singapore Police Force (Including Police Coast Guard)
6. Immigration & Checkpoints Authority
7. Singapore Civil Defence Force (Including SCDF Marine Command)
8. Singapore Armed Forces (Including the Republic of Singapore Navy)
9. Ministry Of Health
10. Singapore Customs
11. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
12. Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore
13. Singapore Land Authority
14. JTC Corporation
15. Housing and Development Board
16. National Parks Board
17. Building & Construction Authority
18. Sentosa Development Corporation
19. Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority
20. Oil Spill Response Limited
21. Singapore Oil Spill Response Centre Pte Ltd
22. Oiltanking Asia Pacific Pte Ltd
23. PetroSeraya Pte Ltd
24. Shell Eastern Petroleum Pte Ltd
25. Singapore Refining Company Pte Ltd
26. PB Tankers Ltd (Tankstore)
27. Singapore Petroleum Company Limited
28. Sembcorp Industries Ltd (SUT Div)

Read more!

New Thomson Nature Park to be ready by end-2018

Today Online 8 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE — The soon-to-be-developed Thomson Nature Park will be ready by the end of 2018, said the National Parks Board (NParks) on Saturday (Oct 8).

Work on Thomson Nature Park — located between Old Upper Thomson Road and Upper Thomson Road — will begin early next year.

Trails will be developed to give visitors a chance to experience heritage highlights within the site — a former Hainan village. Among the features include old houses and foundations of the former village and some of the relict trees such as the majestic Ficus trees estimated to be more than 50 years old.

The area is also home to many rare and locally endangered animals at the site — including porcupines, pangolin, Samba deers, Leopard cats and Straw-headed Bulbuls.

In particular, the site also serves as a key conservation site for the Raffles’ Banded Langur, a subspecies of the Banded Leaf Monkey that can only be found in Singapore and southern Peninsular Malaysia. Additionally freshwater streams at the site are also home to many native aquatic species such as the Spotted Tree Frog which is near threatened on IUCN Red list, as well as the Malayan Box Terrapin.

First announced in 2014, the 50 hectare nature park will complement existing and upcoming nature parks including Springleaf, Chestnut, and Windsor Nature Parks which will extend the green buffer for the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR).

Like other nature parks, Thomson Nature Park will help to reduce visitorship pressure on the nature reserves by providing alternative venues for the public to enjoy nature-related activities, said NParks.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee made a site visit on Saturday, where he planted a Radermachera pinnata tree. Also present were representatives of nature groups, grassroots, students, residents, and key stakeholders.

Ruins of former village to be part of Thomson Nature Park
Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: In plans unveiled by the National Parks Board (NParks) on Saturday (Oct 8), the new Thomson Nature Park will give visitors a rare glimpse into the ruins of a Hainan village when it is completed in 2018.

The village was well-known for its rambutan plantation.

Trails will be developed on existing paths that leads into the village - where they will see, among other things, old houses and village walls, and even majestic ficus trees believed to be over 50 years.

"Apart from setting an area for the public to arrive and be introduced to the park, and have some basic amenities, much of the nature park will be left very rustic," said Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who visited the site.

"Its former structures will be left intact, and we will make sure they're made safe. All these will become opportunities for learning, for Singaporeans to delve deeper into aspects of our history - in the days gone by."

The development of the 50-hectare park is part of the NParks' approach to strengthen biodiversity conservation in Singapore's nature reserves.

Like other nature parks, the Thomson Nature Park provides an alternative site to help reduce the pressure of visitor numbers on the nature reserves.

It also skirts the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and will function as a green buffer - protecting it from the impact of urban development.

- CNA/rw

Read more!

How one Singaporean is caring for sharks by caring for fishermen

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 8 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE — In the three-and-a-half years since she gave up her job as a history teacher to save sharks via eco-tourism, Ms Kathy Xu has seen countless dead sharks destined for the dining table at Tanjung Luar fish market in Lombok.

But until recently, she had not encountered sharks that were still alive at the market. In August when she saw two coral catsharks, still breathing, being sold alongside other dead fish, she decided to save them from a certain death and try releasing them back into the sea.

The two sharks, which were likely to be bycatch, cost 10,000 Indonesian rupiah (about S$1) each. The basin to fill with water to sustain them, before the boat ferrying tourists arrived at surrounding reefs, cost 15,000 rupiah.

Ms Xu was well aware of the risks of buying wildlife from sellers for release: It could spur humans to catch more wildlife for that very purpose. But above all, she wanted to give the two sharks a chance to live.

In the end, it was a bittersweet day: One shark did not make it, while the other swam free in shallow waters fringing a beach, to the joy of Ms Xu and the tourists she was leading.

For conservationists like her, the going is tough, the ride is bumpy and there are few easy answers on the ground.

Ms Xu, 34, first went to Lombok in September 2012 after she saw pictures on Facebook that others had posted of sharks being killed in Tanjung Luar, the biggest fish market in the Indonesian island, where about 50 sharks land each day.

She had earlier developed a love for sharks after watching the documentary Sharkwater, had found out more about the majestic – and often misunderstood – creatures of the sea and began volunteering with Shark Savers.

Months later, Ms Xu quit teaching and set up The Dorsal Effect, a shark conservation outfit.

She takes tourists to Lombok to see the shark-fishing situation first-hand, and offers some fishermen an alternative livelihood by operating boats to take the tourists on snorkelling day-trips.

Business has gone up, albeit very slowly, in the last three years, said Ms Xu, whose polytechnic lecturer husband is supportive of her work.

“At the start, there would be two to three months where there’s nothing happening. Now it’s reached a point where, every month on average, there are one to two trips happening,” she said.

“It also helped that I started to reach out to schools… With the school trips, it really helps because at one point in time, I can engage five boats.”

Engaging more boats means income for more fishermen. Ms Xu pays the crew of each boat US$150 (about S$206) per day trip, which exceeds what they used to earn from a few days out at sea catching sharks.

The fishermen who work with Ms Xu no longer hunt sharks but still catch other fish to supplement their income.

The frequency of snorkelling trips has not reached a sustainable level yet – she reckoned it would take eight groups of either schools or companies signing up for trips each year, coupled with daily trips comprising individual tourists.

But Ms Xu is also wary of rapid expansion, and its impact on the environment, such as damage to the corals. “So I’m always caught in this struggle, this balance.”

She tries to minimise damage to nature by getting participants to use reef-safe sunscreen, and cautions against the kicking of corals and indiscriminate dropping of boat anchors.

She also minimises the use of disposable cutlery during meals, encourages the picking of litter and supplies information sheets on the marine ecosystem that participants pass around to read.


There is potential in eco-tourism as a form of livelihood diversification for shark fishermen in Lombok, said Mr I Made Dharma Jaya Aryawan, the marine protected area coordinator of West Nusa Tenggara for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The WCS, an international non-governmental organisation, has tracked data on sharks and rays landing at Tanjung Luar market since December 2013 and has also conducted a socio-economic survey there to understand the fishermen better.

About 80 shark species can be found in the seas around Lombok, and species threatened by overfishing include the tiger shark, silky shark, black-tip reef shark and scalloped hammerhead shark, he said.

But Mr Dharma felt that eco-tourism is not yet feasible as an alternative livelihood for several reasons. Tourism is dependent on the global economic situation, which is currently bleak. Shark-fishing is lucrative and legal in Indonesia, except the catching of whale sharks.

Fishermen will need to develop certain skills to take part in eco-tourism, and most tourist boats operating in Tanjung Luar currently do not involve fishermen in general, he added.

“These boats are mostly owned by some ‘elite’ in Tanjung Luar, who have strong networks with tourism agencies in Lombok and they are not willing to share the customers with other smaller stakeholders,” he said.

Ms Xu’s eco-tourism efforts are, nonetheless, are a great way to allow people from Singapore to see the shark-landing site for themselves and potentially influence demand for shark products, said Mr Dharma, who has known her since 2014.

Looking ahead, Ms Xu has set her sights both further, as well as closer to home.

From the beginning, she has wanted to save sharks in three of the world’s top shark-fishing territories – Indonesia, India and Taiwan.

“Right from the start, I was very idealistic…Along the way, I realised how hard it was and then I got entrenched in Lombok and I realised how important it was to know the local community,” she said.

She is taking steps towards her goal, and recently visited some fishing ports in Taiwan.

Ms Xu is also keen to find out more about the shark situation in Singapore – the numbers that land in fishing ports here and, if possible, to gather other data and release any sharks that are alive.

She and fellow marine enthusiasts are trying to work out a proposal before approaching the local authorities.

“I really believe in citizen science, so we were thinking this could be something that could get Singaporeans excited about sharks… When you talk about sharks, it’s not something that’s far away,” she said.


Despite her efforts, the self-effacing environmentalist hesitates to call herself a shark conservationist. “I would like to but I really don’t dare to use the term because I feel like I don’t have a marine science background,” she said.

“When I started this, the first motivation was for sharks. That’s also the one thing I haven’t been able to track in terms of difference, because I don’t know how to translate fishermen numbers into number of sharks caught — or not. So that’s something that’s a bit frustrating.”

There is no doubt, however, in the mind of her friend Naomi Clark. “Kathy is 100 per cent a shark conservationist! You don’t need ‘educational training’ in something to pursue it as a career or give yourself a ‘title’ — and Kathy has done more for shark conservation than most people trained in marine science have,” said Ms Clark, a marine biologist who has been on a few trips with Ms Xu and helps with the marine conservation aspect of The Dorsal Effect.

Calling The Dorsal Effect an all-rounded initiative that tackles the supply and demand side of shark fishing, Ms Clark said: “I think her school trips are especially valuable as they provide in-depth insight to the issue at hand — participants get to see the uncensored shark market, meet the shark fishermen, see that they are kind, warm people, and join them for snorkelling trips. It’s unique, raw, and impacting. While shark fishermen are often painted as the enemy, Kathy’s work highlights to participants that they are not – they are good people in unfortunate circumstances.”

Ms Clark added: “While Kathy has only been operating The Dorsal Effect for a few years, and while it’s been a difficult road for her, I have seen the positive impact she has made.”

* This feature was the reporter’s project for the Asia Journalism Fellowship.

Read more!

Heeding the call of the wild, Singaporean conservationists make their mark abroad

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 8 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE — When he was 21, Gopalasamy Reuben Clements took a road trip to Malaysia that would change his life, and lead to a career in conservation across the Causeway.

Interested in collecting shells, he and some friends rented a car in Johor and drove to Gua Musang in Kelantan. The jungles and limestone hills left him in awe. When he returned, he changed his mind about studying engineering in university and decided to “break away” to do biology, despite not having taken the subject for his O- or A-Levels.

“It was just the whole hobby of collecting shells that got me interested in the natural world … in exploring, classifying things, finding the names of animals,” he said.

After getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the young man found himself doing bio-remediation (using micro-organisms to break down environmental pollutants) in the canals of Singapore, and thought about “all the fun times in Malaysia exploring the jungles”.

He found his way back north in 2007 via the World Wide Fund for Nature in Malaysia, managing its Malayan tiger and Sumatran rhinoceros projects in the Peninsula.

A few years later, he would pursue his doctorate with James Cook University in Australia while based in — you guessed it ­— Malaysia, studying the environmental and social impact of roads. He co-founded Rimba, a non-profit research group in 2010 with his wife, Ms Sheema Abdul Aziz, and is today a respected voice in Malaysia on tiger conservation, habitat loss, poaching and the impact of roads on wildlife. One of Rimba’s projects is Harimau Selamanya, which conducts research to help conserve three large carnivore species — the Malayan tiger, leopard and clouded leopard — in the Central Forest Spine of the Peninsula. The project is funded by wild-cat conservation group Panthera and Woodland Park Zoo in the United States.

What Dr Clements loves about working in Malaysia is “seeing forest that can be saved”.

“Sure, there’s a lot of deforestation for oil palm, for rubber, but there are still vast tracts of wilderness like Taman Negara that give a sense of awe,” Dr Clements, 37, told TODAY recently while here for the Conservation Asia conference. “And seeing animals like tigers in the forest makes you want to do as much as you can to protect them.”

Asked if he would return to do conservation in Singapore, he said: “Never say never … (but) it’s more like my skill set is more useful (in Malaysia). I’ve learnt how the system works, learnt Malay.”


Dr Clements is among a handful of Singaporeans making their mark doing environmental conservation abroad. Their areas of expertise vary — from tiger conservation to the use of drones for conservation. All of them are working to find solutions to pressing environmental issues.

The paths that led them to venture abroad are distinct, yet similar in some ways. Several said they had to look overseas to pursue areas of study that were deemed by Singapore institutions and the authorities to have no economic benefit. Singapore has had to be pragmatic, but it is just as important to follow one’s interest and find ways to adapt, the conservationists said.

When he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2013, conservationist Koh Lian Pin, who was then with ETH Zurich university, was both happy and sad. “Happy for the recognition of my contributions to global society; sad because I was nominated for the honour not by anyone from my ‘home’ country, Singapore, but instead by my colleagues in Switzerland, my ‘adopted’ country then,” he said.

He had ventured overseas back in 2004 to do his PhD at Princeton University in the United States, convinced that in his field of research, he needed to leave Singapore to flourish. “When I was a young undergraduate in Singapore, I applied for a postgraduate fellowship from a key government entity in Singapore and was put through to the second and final round of interviews with the chairman of the entity,” he said. “After I told him about my passion for environmental sciences, and future plans, he basically laughed it off and said there is no return on investment for studying butterflies and birds.”

That encounter made Assoc Prof Koh realise he did not want his life and career decisions to be tied to what any one country deemed important, or not.

Professor Peter Ng of the National University of Singapore (NUS), who is head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, said good areas for investment used to be more “biomedical-centric”. This is less so now, although applied areas still take precedence. “Is conservation science important and applied? I think so. But conservation also involves a multitude of other disciplines as well. And how many we can take in is limited,” said Prof Ng. “That has always been Singapore’s problem. We are a small country with limited options, but with an awful lot of talent. It is painful to see our good people having to move overseas ... and we should constantly look out to bring more back.”

The university has tried to hire one of the Singaporeans based overseas, but things did not work out as “he also had his own wish list, which we could not comply (with)”, said Prof Ng. Across the biodiversity domain, some students did receive overseas scholarships from NUS and a few have returned and are doing well, he said.

Good scholarship is always rewarded, but “we cannot reward every good scholar with a job or scholarship”, he said. “Ultimately, the pot is limited and it is tough.”


Assoc Prof Koh’s interest in biology blossomed after reading popular science books — especially those by Richard Dawkins — as a “nerdy” schoolboy in Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College. A specific interest in ecology and conservation grew during a student exchange programme at Cornell University in the US, when he was a biology undergraduate at NUS. He still vividly remembers a conservation biology class taught by eminent ornithologist John Fitzpatrick.

In his first lecture, Prof Fitzpatrick played an audio recording of a male bird — Assoc Prof Koh can no longer remember the species — making a “sad, lonely call” in the rainforest. The bird was the last remaining individual of that species calling for a mate. “For some reason, that story resonated deep within me and made me want to learn more about the natural world,” said Assoc Prof Koh, 40, via email from Australia, where he is now director of the Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility and Centre for Applied Conservation Science at the University of Adelaide.

He became an academic for the freedom to explore the natural world and to gain new knowledge.

For his PhD, Assoc Prof Koh put the spotlight on industrial agriculture causing rapid transformation of South-east Asia’s natural landscape, doing research in various oil palm plantations in Sabah in the mid-2000s.

He is also known for using drones for conservation and is the founding director of, a non-profit that made its first test-flight in Sumatra in 2012. The videos garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube within weeks, capturing the public’s imagination of what could be achieved with the technology, he said.

The outfit’s project with local conservation groups in Indonesia’s Leuser ecosystem and its surroundings also led to data that helped local officials identify illegally logged and burnt forests.

In the past two years, Assoc Prof Koh has focused more on his research initiatives at the University of Adelaide and on working closely with the non-governmental organisation Conservation International to develop a Global Drone Programme. The university’s Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility aims to move beyond “pretty pictures and videos that can be captured by drones, (to instead) produce useful products from those data to help inform research and policy”.

Spurred on partly by his work on drones, Assoc Prof Koh has earned a private pilot’s licence. It helps in the training of new drone pilots, and in gaining approval from the civil aviation authorities to perform more complicated and riskier drone missions, he said.

Another Singaporean whose work has taken him around the world is Dr Kelvin Peh, a conservation ecologist who led the development of an ecosystem services assessment tool. The latter project — called the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment, or Tessa — involved a host of other institutions including BirdLife International, and helps communities and policymakers assess the value of benefits provided by a site of biodiversity importance. It has been used in many countries and downloaded 1,600 times, he said.

After doing a double major in zoology and botany as an NUS undergraduate, he conducted research and taught in Singapore before getting a Swedish scholarship for his master’s.

He spent half of the two-year programme in this region, doing research in Peninsular Malaysia on the persistence of forest birds in oil palm plantations, rubber estates and mixed rural areas.

A European Union Marie Curie doctoral fellowship in 2006 then led him to conduct research in Cameroon with the University of Leeds. He spent 16 months in Cameroon, living in a village fringing the Dja faunal reserve with no electricity or tap water.

He kept in touch with his supervisors and family via satellite phone charged by solar panels, and drank water from the river that was sometimes brown. No stomach problems resulted, but Dr Peh said with a laugh: “It was very tough, I don’t think I can do it again.”

In the reserve, a World Heritage site, he investigated and compared the ecosystem functioning — such as the growth rate of trees and the amount of carbon stored — of two types of forest, one dominated by a single tree species and another that was mixed forest. The research continues, and Dr Peh said the stint in Cameroon taught him the importance of the forest on local people’s livelihoods, and not to forget the needs of locals when conserving an area.

Next July and August, he will be in Brazil establishing plots of land to study the impact of slash-and-burn techniques on forest regeneration in the Amazon. Trips to Sumatra and Mexico to visit his PhD students doing field work are also on the cards.

Dr Peh, 43, currently a lecturer on a research career track at the University of Southampton, counts travelling and applying knowledge of ecology in conservation science as perks of the job. South-east Asian forests “are pretty special”.

“They’re the tallest and, of course, when I work in the forest, I get in touch with the local traditions and customs and food,” he said. “South-east Asian forests harbour many beautiful birds that I can identify by their calls. Also, I get the opportunity to visit my family in Singapore when working in South-east Asia.”


Similarly based in the United Kingdom and helping to educate a new generation of conservationists is Dr Cedric Tan. A postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Dr Tan’s work is in innovative teaching and outreach, with associated research on clouded leopards.

He received his PhD in zoology, studying an aspect of the sexual behaviour of the red jungle fowl and fruit fly, from the same university.

Dr Tan, 32, was valedictorian in his NUS life sciences cohort in 2009, and had applied for scholarships to further his studies. The gist of replies he received was: “Unfortunately we don’t have a place for you in the future, in Singapore or NUS.”

Said Dr Tan: “I feel a bit disappointed because that’s how Singapore is, but I understand, given (our small land area), people passionate about conservation … just have to go overseas.”

His parents, a broker and a human resource administrator in their late 50s, supported his studies at Oxford because it was a well-known university, but had harboured hopes of a career in biomedical sciences for him.

In recent years, Dr Tan has carved a niche in innovative teaching and educational games development.

It all started in the second year of his PhD, when Dr Tan was assigned to teach in small-group tutorials. He taught statistics and, at first, used the “traditional method” of assigning essays, and marking and discussing them in class.

“Looking at my students when we discussed, firstly, it was difficult to elicit questioning; secondly, it’s difficult to know whether they had understood. Nodding doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve understood,” he said.

He created his first game to help students revise what they had learnt. With encouraging response, a second game on evolution followed. These days, the games have grown in sophistication. Players could take on the roles of predator or prey, for instance, or work together as a class to make collective decisions to save the environment or animals in the face of an external force.

“Conservation is about cause and effect, and such games are about cause and effect,” he said.

Games can get the players to think about issues, such as forest management, from different perspectives — that of government official, the urban community, the rural community and conservation biologist, for example. “Even though they might be conservation biologists and they want to win, they have to (first) argue and debate controversial issues.”

Dr Tan said he initially faced scepticism from colleagues who asked if the students were actually learning anything from the fun and games. This has spurred him to conduct research to show his methods are effective, and he aims to publish his findings in a conservation journal.

Other opportunities have come knocking: Late last year, Dr Tan developed a board game for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, targeted at encouraging smallholders to undergo sustainability certification.

For the past two years, he has also conducted a wildlife conservation course using innovative teaching methods at the University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus). His future options include staying in academia, staying with Oxford, returning to Singapore and switching to games design. All will centre on conservation education, he said.


Needless to say, conservation is no child’s play. There are ups and downs, and conservationists can get jaded, said Dr Clements. “You see animal deaths and it gets you frustrated; you wonder if you’re doing enough. But I think working with the wildlife department (of Malaysia) gives us hope, because at the end of the day, they’re the best people to (help) minimise poaching,” he said.

A 15,000ha area near Kenyir Lake, in Terengganu, was gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary in June, and Dr Clements said his team would continue lobbying for better protection of tigers and their habitats.

With only 300 Malayan tigers left in the wild, the critically endangered species needs all the help it can get, said Dr Kae Kawanishi, general manager of the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers.

Dr Mark Rayan Darmaraj, WWF-Malaysia’s Tiger Landscape Lead, said tigers are on the brink of extinction in Malaysia. NGOs need to spread themselves across three priority sites — the Belum-Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau-Rompin forest complexes — and focus on one site, he said. Tiger conservation efforts require a huge amount of manpower, funding and resources, which are often just enough to cover one site, he said.

“Rimba plays an important role in carrying out work in the Taman Negara landscape in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Malaysia. The significance of the work would ultimately depend on how tigers are faring in these forests,” said Dr Darmaraj, who has known Dr Clements since 2007. “Successful tiger conservation efforts take time to transpire, hence for Rimba it seems that efforts are underway and can be expected to culminate in tiger recovery at its core sites over the next few years.”

The experts say conservation is ultimately an issue that transcends national boundaries. Nationality has “absolutely no relevance in conservation research”, and people should do what they are passionate about, said Assoc Prof Koh.

Indeed, Dr Tan’s work, for example, has not gone unnoticed by those in Singapore. Mandai Park Holdings, which is developing new wildlife attractions near the zoo, contacted him recently to present his research on Singapore tigers in the past, clouded leopards in Malaysia and his teaching research. In a subsequent meeting, they discussed ideas on how to better engage the visitors at the zoo for the new attraction, he said.

Dr Tan said: “I’m largely driven by the belief that it’s ethical and responsible as a race to take care of the environment, since it provides us with what we need, and the diversity that we have (took) millions of years to come by.”

Read more!

Malaysia: Water disruptions ongoing in JB, Kulai and Kota Tinggi

The Star 8 Oct 16;

JOHOR BARU: Several residential areas here as well as Kulai and Kota Tinggi have been experiencing disruptions because of low levels at the Bukit Batu, Semangar and Sultan Ismail water treatment plants.

SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd (SAJ) corporate communications head Jamaluddin Jamil said that the areas affected include Taman Kempas Utama, Jalan Kempas Lama-Seelong, Jalan Seelong-Senai, Jalan Kempas Lama-Skudai and Taman Impian Jaya Seelong.

He added Taman Anggerik, Taman Bukit Kempas Fasa 4/5, Kampung Pemuda Jaya Seelong, Kampung Sinaran Baru, Sekolah Hidayan Jalan Seelong, Pekan Bukit Batu, Jalan Kulai-Air Hitam, Kampung Air Manis Kulai and Kampung Air Bemban were also experiencing disruptions.

Also affected are those staying in Taman Kulai Utama, Jalan Layang-Layang Bukit Batu and Felda Bukit Batu.

The disruption was due to a shortage of water from Sungai Ulu Pontian Besar, Sungai Johor and Sungai Skudai.

Jamaluddin said the Sultan Ismail water treatment plant was also affected by the high level of ammonia and fluoride coming from Sungai Skudai.

“The dry weather has also disrupted supply,” said Jamaluddin, adding that water will be distributed to residents upon request especially to schools, dialysis centres, houses of worship, hospitals, school hostels or during events like funerals.

Residents are advised to store enough water and call SAJ Info Centre at 1800 88 7474 or SMS 019-772 7474 or email for information.

Read more!

Malaysia: Pollution forces shutdown of 2 Pahang water treatment plants, supply disruptions expected

DAWN CHAN New Straits Times 8 Oct 16;

SHAH ALAM: The Sungai Langat and Cheras water treatment plants were temporarily shut down at 8.30pm and 10pm respectively last night due to odour pollution suspected to have originated from the Semantan river in Pahang.

Both plants receive raw water supply from the same river, said Air Selangor Group Corporate Communications head Amin Lin Abdullah.

In a statement released at 10am today, Amin said Air Selangor's river surveillance team has been in Pahang since last night to assist the Pahang Water Resource Authority and Pahang Department of Environment in identifying the source of pollution in the river.

"Water from the Sungai Langat dam was released into the river at 9.45pm last night as part of efforts to mitigate the odour pollution.

"(As a result of the shutdown), several areas in Kuala Lumpur and parts of Petaling and Hulu Langat will be experiencing temporary water interruption.

"Relief water supplies will be delivered by tankers to affected areas and critical public facilities, such as hospitals and dialysis centres," said Amin.

The list of affected areas can be viewed at Affected consumers in need of water can request for relief supplies by sending an SMS to 15300.

Sungai Langat, Cheras water treatment plants resume operations
DAWN CHAN New Straits Times 8 Oct 16;

SHAH ALAM: The Sungai Langat and Cheras water treatment plants resumed operations at 9am and noon respectively today.

Tourism, Environment, Green Technology and Consumer Affairs executive councillor Elizabeth Wong said water supply to affected areas in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Hulu Langat will be gradually restored – until then, relief water supply will be distributed based on a schedule as a stop-gap measure.

Wong said Air Selangor’s River Surveillance team is still in Pahang to assist the Pahang Water Resource Authority and Pahang Department of Environment in identifying the source of last night’s odour pollution in Sungai Semantan.

The two water treatment plants had to be temporarily shut down at 8.30pm and 10pm respectively due to odour pollution suspected to have originated from the Semantan river in Pahang.

Both plants, which receive raw water supply from the Semantan river, have switched to the Sungai Langat dam as their new source of water, said Air Selangor Group corporate communications head Amin Lin Abdullah.

Amin said relief water supply distribution to areas experiencing water disruption will begin tomorrow.

"(This) is to ensure that consumers do not experience interruption for an extended period. "Relief water supply will be delivered by tankers to affected areas and critical public facilities, such as hospital and dialysis centres.

"Consumers are urged to use water supply prudently during this restoration period,” he added.

Amin had earlier said water from the Sungai Langat dam had been released into the river at 9.45pm last night as part of efforts to mitigate the odour pollution.

The shutdown had resulted in taps in several areas in Kuala Lumpur, parts of Petaling Jaya and Hulu Langat running dry.

Scheduled water supply continues in four districts in Selangor
BERNAMA New Straits Times 8 Oct 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Scheduled water supply to 330,000 consumers at several areas in the Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat, Sepang and Petaling districts will be continued until water supply in the areas resume fully.

Kumpulan Air Selangor corporate communications department chief, Amin Lin Abdullah said the scheduling had been in use since the closure of the Sg Semenyih Water Treatment Plant on Tuesday (Oct 4) due to contamination of raw water.

He said the temporary measure was aimed at ensuring consumers did not experience water supply disruption for a long period of time.

“Currently, only some areas in the districts are still affected by water supply scheduling such as Bandar Sunway Semenyih and Cyberjaya.

“We seek the cooperation of consumers to use water sparingly to help us expedite the recovery of water supply in the affected areas,” he said in a statement here today.

Amin Lin said water supply would be sent via tankers to those areas experiencing water disruption during the recovery period.

He said to avoid congestion at the customer call centre, consumers were urged to download the smart phone ‘mySYABAS’ application or surf for further information.--BERNAMA

Temporary water disruptions in KL and Petaling district
The Star 7 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: Several areas in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling as well as Hulu Langat will experience temporary water interruption following the shut down of the Langat water treatment plan.

The Langat water treatment plant was shut down at 8.30pm on Friday night due to odour pollution from the Semantan River.

“Relief water supply will be delivered by tankers to affected areas and critical premises, such as hospital and dialysis centres,” said Air Selangor Group in a statement Friday regretting any inconvenience caused.

To avoid call center congestion, consumers are advised to download the “mySYABAS” smartphone application or visit to get more information.

Consumers can also SMS their address to 15300 to request for relief water supply.

Several areas in KL, Petaling and Hulu Langat facing water disruption
PRIYA MENON The Star 8 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: Over 420,000 houses in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling and Hulu Langat will be having dry taps until further notice following the temporary closure of the Langat and Cheras water treatment plants.

Selangor's executive councillor for tourism environment, green technology and consumer affairs Elizabeth Wong in a statement said the closure was due to odour pollution at the Semantan River in Pahang.

Both Langat and Cheras plants were shut down at 8.30pm and 10pm respectively after an unusual odour was discovered at the outlet portal of Sungai Serai which receives water from Sungai Semantan at 7.30pm Friday night.

"We have contacted the Pahang water resource agency (Badan Kawalselia Air Pahang) which has informed the Environment Department.

"Meanwhile the Air Selangor surveillance team is currently in Pahang to assist them to track the source of the pollution," she added.

Water from the Sungai Langat Dam was released at 11.45pm to mitigate the odour pollution in the water.

Meanwhile, the Bukit Tampoi water plant has been put under alert as well and will be shut down if necessary.

Relief water supply will be delivered by tankers to affected areas and critical premises including hospitals and dialysis centres.

Consumers are advised to download the mySYABAS smartphone application or visit to get more information.

Consumers can also SMS their addresses to 15300 to request for relief water supply.

Langat and Cheras water plants resume operations
PRIYA MENON The Star 8 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Langat and Cheras water treatment plants have resumed operations after a temporary shutdown last night.

The Langat plant resumed operations at 9am while the Cheras plant began operations at 12pm.

Selangor’s environment committee chairman Elizabeth Wong said Air Selangor’s River Surveillance team is still assisting the Pahang Water Resource Authority and Pahang Department of Environment to identify the source of last night's odour pollution in Sungai Semantan.

Water supply will be restored to the affected areas in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling and Hulu Langat in stages based on a schedule.

More than 420,000 households were affected by the closure of the water treatment plants.

“This is a temporary measure, to ensure consumers do not experience water supply interruption for an extended period,” she said.

Relief water supply will be delivered by tankers to affected areas and critical premises, such as hospital and dialysis centres.

Relief for residents affected by water cuts
SIRA HABIBU The Star 9 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: Residents affected by the closure of the Langat and Cheras water treatment plants can heave a sigh of relief as the two plants resumed their operations.

Air Selangor head of corporate communication Amin Lin Abdullah said yesterday that both treatment plants hadswitched their source of raw water supply from Sungai Semantan in Pahang to Sungai Langat dam.

Water will be distributed to all affected areas in Kuala Lumpur and parts of Petaling as well as Hulu Langat based on a schedule effective today as a temporary measure to ensure consumers do not expe­rience supply interruption for an extended period.

The Sungai Langat and Cheras plants were shut down due to odour pollution suspected from Sungai Semantan.

Both plants receive raw water supply from the same river.

Air Selangor’s river surveillance team has been sent to Pahang to assist the Pahang Water Resource Authority and Pahang Department of Environment to identify the source of pollution in the river.

“Consumers are urged to use water prudently during this restoration period. They are advised to download the ‘mySYABAS’ smartphone application or visit to get more information,” he said.

In a related development, Semen­yih assemblyman Datuk Johan Abdul Aziz said lawyers were looking into legal options that consu­mers could take.

“In the meantime, I have sought the help of firemen to supply water to affected areas,” he said.

A Taman Mutiara Timur resident in Cheras, who wanted to be known only as Chong, said the public had a right to know the source and cause of pollution.

“This is a serious matter. I am curious as to how this could happen,” she said.

Chong said she had always stored water in pails and buckets in anticipation of a possible disruption.

“But what can we do if the water is contaminated? We need assu­rance the water is safe for consumption after supply is restored,” said the mother of three.

Retiree Kasnin Wagiman, 63, said the onus was on the authorities to ensure the water was safe for consumption.

“Can the authorities guarantee the water is safe?” he asked.

Expose river polluters and get RM10,000 reward

KAJANG: Balakong assemblyman Eddie Ng (pic) is offering a RM10,000 reward to those who can provide information on the culprits responsible for polluting the Semantan River.

He will also give RM500 to the first person to provide picture or video evidence of anyone polluting the river.

Funds for the reward will come out of his allocation and will be given out upon once the provided information is confirmed by relevant authorities.

"The shutdown of the water treatment plants has affected 430,000 households. I am very unhappy with the water disruptions in Selangor due to river pollution and stern action must be taken against the culprits," he said.

The Sg Langat and Cheras water treatment plants were shut down at 8.30pm and 10pm respectively Friday due to pollution suspected to be from the Semantan River in Pahang.

Both these plants receive raw water from the same river.

Several areas in Kuala Lumpur and parts of Petaling and Hulu Langat will be experiencing temporary water interruption due to the shutdown.

Relief water supply will be delivered by tankers to affected areas and critical premises, such as hospitals and dialysis centres.

Consumers are advised to download the "mySYABAS" smartphone application or visit to get more information.

Consumers can also SMS their addresses to 15300 to request for relief water supply.

Avert water disaster, AWER beseech authorities to tighten monitoring system
C.PREMANANTHINI New Straits Times 9 Oct 16;

SHAH ALAM: The Association of Water and Energy Research (Awer) has urged the authorities to beef up their monitoring system on waste water that are released into the rivers.

Awer president, Piarapakaran S., told the News Straits Times, the recent incidents of water treatment plants shutdown due to odour pollution cannot be taken lightly.

He said in the case of odour pollution detected in the Semantan river, there are a lot of plantation activities around the area and massive plots of lands being cleared around the catchment area, both of which could be the source of pollution.

If the problem is not solved, Piarapakaran said, it may affect the function of the Langat 2 water treatment plant, which is expected to start operating in 2019.

He pointed out that almost 20 per cent of treated water will come from Langat 2 and should another crisis occur, it will drastically affect even more consumers.

As for contamination in the Semenyih river, he said that the presence of illegal factories may very well be the cause.

He stressed that the authorities should monitor all factories, legal or illegal, with equal enforcement strength.

Read more!

Malaysia: Kelantan govt -- Logging has led to environmental degradation in Gua Musang area

SYED AZHAR The Star 7 Oct 16;

KOTA BARU: The Kelantan government says logging activities in the Balah forest reserve in Gua Musang has led to environmental degradation, particularly rivers which run through it.

Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Abdullah said silt and loose earth could have made their way from logging areas into the rivers.

However, he stressed that the damage caused was not enough to deem the rivers " heavily polluted".

He added that the state environment department would be aware of this as they had to comply with environmental impact assessment requirements," he said at Dataran Ilmu here on Friday.

Mohd Amar said any work within the forest reserve impacts the environment, which is why an EIA report is needed.

"At the end of the day, I believe we can solve their problem which I personally think is a misunderstanding between the loggers and the orang asli," he said.

On Sept 28, a brawl nearly broke out between scores of orang asli and henchmen of loggers, who confronted the orang asli manning a blockade with chainsaws and a shotgun.

The Kelantan government has since issued stop work orders to two logging companies to ease the tension and find an amicable solution to the stand off.

Kelantan govt admits potential damage to environment
SYED AZHAR The Star 8 Oct 16;

KOTA BARU: The Kelantan government has admitted that logging activities in the Balah forest reserve in Gua Musang may be causing environmental degradation, especially for rivers.

Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Abdullah said such activities may have caused silt and loose earth coming from logging areas to flow into the rivers.

“However, I do not think it is that bad that it is causing the rivers to be heavily polluted,” he said yesterday.

Otherwise, he said, the state Department of Environment would have been aware of the problem as logging activities must also comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment requirements.

Mohd Amar was commenting on claims by the orang asli community in Gua Musang that logging activities in the area were causing environmental problems, especially contamination to the rivers.

The community claimed that they now faced difficulties getting clean water as the rivers have turned muddy.

Mohd Amar also acknowledged that any activities carried out in the forest reserve would have an impact on the environment and that was why an EIA report was needed before works could start.

“I believe we can solve the problem faced by the orang asli, which I personally think is a misunderstanding between them and the loggers,” he said.

On Sept 28, a brawl nearly broke out between scores of orang asli and the loggers’ henchmen who confronted the orang asli manning a blockade with chainsaws and a shotgun.

However, no one was injured while three orang asli are said to have been detained for hours by plainclothes policemen.

Since then, the Kelantan government had issued stop-work orders to two logging companies to ease the tension and find an amicable solution to the stand-off.

Read more!

Indonesia: VP urges environment forestry ministry to familiarize people with peatland restoration

Antara 7 Oct 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla has instructed the Environment and Forestry Ministry to familiarize all sections of the society with the importance of restoring the peatland.

"The vice president has urged the ministry to disseminate information about peatland restoration in all regions of Indonesia," Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said here on Friday.

The discussion on peatland restoration was led by the vice president himself.

The minister remarked that mutual understanding among the central government, the local administration, and the investors was needed to avoid any problems in the future.

"Restoration of peatland was aimed at preserving the environment," the minister pointed out.

The government will release a government regulation (PP) on environmental economy.

"Currently, 15 companies have expressed an interest to carry out restoration of the ecosystem in Indonesia, but some of them are not into peatland restoration," the minister stated.

Indonesia's peatland area is estimated at 20.6 million hectares, or about 10.8 percent of the countrys total land area. Of this, approximately 7.2 million hectares, or 35 percent, is located on the Sumatra Island.

The Indonesian government had earlier issued a presidential regulation for the establishment of a peatland restoration body to prevent fires in the future.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar remarked here on Wednesday that the Presidential Regulation (Perpres) Number 1 of 2016 was issued on January 6, 2016.

"Actually, much of the peat body's task comprises restoring the landscape and the peatland ecology, thus saving and protecting the environment and preventing any fires," she affirmed.

She explained that the institution was tasked with safeguarding, managing, and restoring the peatland areas.

She informed that two to three million hectares of peatland areas will be restored.

The minister explained that several institutions and ministries such as the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Public Works and Housing Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Agrarian and Spatial Affairs Ministry, and the National Development Planning Board will be involved in the effort.(*)

Read more!

Indonesia: Environmental losses counted in graft probe

Haeril Halim and Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 8 Oct 16;

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) will now include potential environmental losses in its indictments to show how damaging corruption can be, not only to the state’s coffers, but also to the country’s natural resources.

The antigraft body has claimed that a mining permit issued by a graft suspect, Southern Sulawesi Governor Nur Alam, may cost nearly Rp 3.5 trillion (US$269.5 million) in environmental losses.

This is the first time the KPK has used an audit of environmental losses in court to build a strong case against a graft defendant. This audit is expected to strengthen the antigraft body’s separate audit of state losses, which is still ongoing, for the case.

The combination of state and environmental losses in the case aims at sending a message to state officials charged with corruption in the environmental sector about the magnitude of their alleged crimes.

KPK commissioner La Ode Muhammad Syarif said that the approximately Rp 3.4 trillion in losses consisted of the loss of sources of drinking water for local people and the loss of protected forest that had been used as a mining site.

“[The environmental losses] also cover the value of the absence of rehabilitation at the mining site. The KPK will pay special attention to corruption in the natural resource and environmental sectors in the future,” La Ode told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

The mining site had been operated by PT Anugrah Harisma Barakah for years and the KPK accused the company of channeling billions of rupiah of kickbacks to the governor’s bank accounts to pay for Nur Alam’s decision to issue the permit for Anugrah. The KPK revealed its assessment of the environmental losses during a pretrial hearing for Nur Alam on Wednesday.

Nur Alam’s petition aimed to challenge the KPK’s decision to name the governor a suspect, even though his administration in the past three years received a reasonable without exceptions (WTP) assessment from the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK).

The antigraft body has long targeted corruption in the environmental sector. It previously conducted a comprehensive study of the mining sector in 34 provinces in 2015 and found a number of irregularities that could have led to potential losses of hundreds of trillion of rupiah. The study, however, was never used against a graft defendant.

The KPK detected that 724 of 3,066 mining companies did not have tax identification numbers (NPWP) and many companies failed to report their taxes to the government.

“We found that as much as Rp 23.7 trillion of non-tax state revenue (PNBP) funds had yet to be paid by mining companies to the state,” La Ode said.

The KPK charged Nur Alam with bribery after finding that billions of rupiahs sent to his bank accounts had allegedly come from PT Anugrah.

Nur Alam’s case is not the first environment-related graft case that the KPK has handled.

In 2009, the KPK investigated former Pelalawan regent Tengku Azmun Jafar in Riau in a case involving the issuance of forestry permits to seven companies that Tengku allegedly owned in the region.

The KPK at that time did not calculate the environmental losses like it had done on Nur Alam’s case. However, the KPK’s calculations of state losses in Palalawan’s case reached Rp 1.3 trillion.

Separately, the head of the legal and research department of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), Zenzi Suhadi, lauded the KPK’s move to calculate environmental losses and potential economic losses in Nur Alam’s case, saying that it would hold offenders in the natural resource sector more accountable for their actions.

Read more!

Indonesia: More Forest Products in Indonesia Need to Get Certified -- FSC

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 7 Oct 16;

Jakarta. The local arm of Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, an international NGO for responsible forest management, wants to introduce their certification scheme to more forest industry players.

Activist have raised alarms bells over the issue of forest conservation in the country for a long time. So far, only 2 million hectares of forest areas in Indonesia have been FSC-certified.

"FSC Indonesia needs to actively introduce the FSC certification scheme to forest product industry players to ensure production processes are environmentally friendly, responsible and from a traceable origin," FSC Indonesia representative, Hartono Prabowo, said in a statement on Friday (07/10).

The organization also aims to educate consumers about the certification to help them become more responsible in purchasing goods, as FSC-certified products will have the label printed on their packaging.

According to the FSC, this is a necessary move as Indonesians still lack understanding and awareness of responsible consumerism, especially of forest-based products.

The organization claims 82 percent of FSC certificate holders say their brand value has improved. 90 percent say the certification helped them create a positive brand image.

FSC Indonesia has been carrying out awareness campaigns promoting eco-friendly choices to alter consumers' shopping habits.

The certification is sorely needed, Hartono claimed, especially considering Indonesia has abundant forest resources but also a forest management system that leaves a lot to be desired.

Read more!