Best of our wild blogs: 10 Oct 16

Oil spill exercise: The solution to pollution still dilution?
wild shores of singapore

Oriental Pied Hornbills in my garden!
My Nature Experiences

Metalsmiths & Flycatchers – A Japanese Garden Adventure
Winging It

African Flame Snail (Limicolaria flammea) @ Lower Seletar Reservoir
Monday Morgue

Read more!

Nature Society on mission to save horseshoe crabs

To conserve them better, society finds out more about the animals, urges other countries to do so too
Audrey Tan Straits Times 10 Oct 16;

Little is known about the horseshoe crabs in Asia, other than the fact that they suffer from an identity crisis. They may be called crabs, but these ancient animals are actually more closely related to arachnids - a group that includes spiders.

The Nature Society (Singapore) or NSS, however, is on a mission to find out more about these animals in a bid to conserve them better, by collecting data about native populations and urging countries that have them to do the same.

There are four species of horseshoe crabs found around the world, three of which can be found in Asia.

But the three species - coastal, mangrove and Chinese horseshoe crabs - are considered data deficient on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, which means not enough is known about them to classify how close to extinction they are.

The Atlantic horseshoe crab, found in the Americas, is the only species with an international classification - it is considered vulnerable to extinction, having been harvested for its blood, which is used in the pharmaceutical industry.

"More information is needed to reassess the status of the three Asian horseshoe crab species, which live in fast-disappearing mudflat and mangrove habitats, " said NSS volunteer J. Vanitha, who was in Hawaii last month to speak about the society's ongoing horseshoe crab rescue and research programme at the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

In Asia, these animals are threatened with habitat loss as mudflats and mangroves make way for development.

In 2012, the NSS proposed to IUCN, the international body in charge of classification, that there was a need to review the status of Asian horseshoe crabs and encourage cooperation between countries which have the Asian horseshoe crabs to conserve the habitats.

Their proposal was accepted and the society is now working to collect data on two of the three Asian horseshoe crab species found in Singapore - the coastal and mangrove horseshoe crabs.

NSS is also in talks with naturalists and scientists in neighbouring countries - such as Malaysia, which has all three Asian horseshoe crab species - on how they can get involved in the effort to reassess the status of the Asian horseshoe crabs.

One way to do this is to enlist the help of citizen science volunteers, which NSS has been doing, said Ms Vanitha, 35, a teacher.

Since 2005, NSS volunteers have been venturing out to the Mandai mudflats - a coastal habitat near Sungei Buloh - on a monthly basis to rescue horseshoe crabs entangled in prawn nets. But the programme expanded in 2007, when volunteers realised they could use the opportunity to measure, record and study the horseshoe crabs.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the NSS' Marine Conservation Group, said horseshoe crabs have an important place in the marine food chain. Their eggs and young, for instance, provide food for birds that stop by the Mandai mudflats.

He added: "Horseshoe crabs are a flagship species of mudflats and mangroves, and citizen science programmes like ours can help raise awareness about the significance of their habitats - less than 1 per cent of Singapore remains covered with highly diverse and productive mangroves."

Students from Republic Polytechnic's (RP) Diploma in Environmental Science are also working on rearing mangrove horseshoe crabs in captivity to gain insights into their breeding cycle, with the intention of breeding them until they reach the reproductive stage and then releasing them into areas where they were once abundant.

Dr Linus Mak, a lecturer from the Diploma in Environmental Science programme at RP's School of Applied Science, said: "It will offer insight into the local species, the threats they face, breeding and conservation methods, and help bridge the gap in data deficiency."

Learn more about the horseshoe crab

Read more!

Zero waste way of life

Lea Wee, The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Oct 16;

They take their own cutlery, containers and water tumblers when they go out. They avoid straws, plastic bags and food packaging.

Some have a compost bin at home where they dump their kitchen scraps and use the compost to fertilise plants.

Others turn fruit peels into eco enzymes for household cleaning.

When it is that time of the month, some women use reusable menstrual cups and cloth pads instead of disposable pads.

These are just some measures adopted by members of the Facebook group, Journey to Zero Waste Life in Singapore, which seeks to reduce waste in daily lives.

With more than 900 members, it was started in May by software engineer Gan Kah Hwee, 29, who wanted to spread awareness about sustainable living in Singapore.

She had always wanted to be eco- conscious, avoiding disposables and using her tumbler and lunchbox.

However, she says: "I felt paiseh (embarrassed) about doing something different. I also didn't see others doing the same."

She changed her mind after watching the award-winning documentary Trashed (2012) by British film-maker Candida Brady in April. She says: "I realised that if we don't practise 'reduce, reuse and recycle', the trash problem is going to be serious. We have to start with ourselves and not wait for the authorities to do something."

She signed up for a sustainability mentorship programme with environmental consultancy Green Future Solutions where she met likeminded participants.

She then started the Facebook group as a form of support. "We post photos of food we buy in our reusable containers. We learn from one another which restaurants and stalls don't entertain reusables and try to avoid them," she says.

The group started with about five members, including Ms Gan's boyfriend, who runs a software firm.

Then, at a climate change seminar, she met representatives from the non-governmental agency People's Movement To Stop Haze and Singapore Youth for Climate Action and invited them to the group.

They, in turn, invited their network of environmental bodies.

The group, which has about 40 new members every week, comprises mostly people from Singapore of all ages and from all walks of life.

About 100 of them attended its first sharing session on Oct 1 at the Visual Art Studio in Boat Quay.

During the three-hour event, Malaysian environmental journalist Aurora Tin shared her experiment in leading a zero waste lifestyle.

Singaporeans Eugene Tay, from environmental group Zero Waste SG, and Farah Sanwari, from Repair Kopitiam, where people meet to repair things, also spoke about their initiatives.

Environmental educator Tan Hang Chong shared tips on how to avoid junk mail while Ms Xyn Foo, of Open Book Cafe in Bukit Pasoh Road, talked about her efforts to reduce waste at her cafe by using stainless steel straws and not offering serviettes.

Vendors also shared information about eco-friendly products such as loofah kitchen sponges, bamboo toothbrushes and reusable beeswax food wrap.

Participants also got to sample "more sustainable" coffee roasted fresh by the Really Really Fresh Coffee movement, a Kickstarter- funded project that advocates roasting coffee on demand to reduce wastage, as roasted coffee has a short shelf life.

Ms Gan hopes to organise more of such sessions. "Maybe we can visit an incineration plant and recycling facilities to see where our trash goes.

We are also thinking of organising workshops on how to make toothpaste, compost bins and eco enzymes."

A year's trash in a bottle

Since the start of the year , Ms Aurora Tin, her husband and their dog, Lucky, have generated so little trash that their rubbish fits into a 500ml glass jar.

Ms Tin, 28, who works as a freelance environmental journalist in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, made a resolution to live a "zero trash" lifestyle late last year.

She was in town recently to share her story with the zero waste community here.

She told the audience that in her job, she often writes about the importance of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

But one day early last year, she found the dustbin next to her workdesk full of the empty packaging of the snacks she had eaten. "I felt like a hypocrite.

On the one hand, I was telling people to practise the three Rs, but on the other hand, I was creating so much trash myself."

In December, she found the "solution to her guilt" when she read the book No Impact Man by Colin Beavan, which chronicles how he, his wife and their daughter tried to make zero impact on the environment while living in Manhattan, New York.

She says: "I was very inspired and thought maybe I could do the same in Malaysia."

Taking a leaf out of the book of New Yorker and blogger Lauren Singer, who managed to squeeze two years of trash into a 16oz (about 473ml) mason jar, Ms Tin resolved to fit one year of her family's trash into a glass jar.

She was then renting a room in a condominium with her solar engineer husband, Mr Lau Tzeh Wei, 28, and their dog.

She tells The Sunday Times that they started preparing themselves about two weeks before the turn of 2016 to give themselves "some time to adjust, as habits cannot change overnight".

To find alternatives to plastic containers, they got family and friends to pass them empty glass jars they no longer wanted.

The couple gave away food with packaging to their friends so they would not have empty packaging to trash.

They converted their dustbin into a recycle bin.

Food waste was stored in the freezer and donated to an environmental non-governmental organisation after one to two weeks.

When they later rented a bigger space in a terrace house, they created a compost bin.

Much effort went into avoiding plastic bags and products including food, household and personal hygiene items that came with packaging which cannot be reused or recycled.

To avoid packaged products often found in supermarkets, they started buying groceries from the wet market and used a shopping bag for vegetables, tiffin carriers for wet produce such as tofu, and stainless steel containers for meat.

They stopped buying some of their favourite processed canned food such as baked beans and pasta sauce, as well as Milo packs and milk cartons.

Stores where household detergents and condiments such as soya sauce can be refilled became places they patronised.

Instead of plastic toothbrushes, they used bamboo ones, which are biodegradable.

They also made their own toothpaste from coconut oil and baking soda.

Ms Tin switched to using a menstrual cup, which is a flexible cup inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood.

It can be cleaned and re-used. In the last month, she stopped using shampoo.

She says: "Over time, we found there are many things we can live without.

If we really need something, we will always be able to find a substitute for it. For instance, instead of milk, we now take soy milk."

Life became simpler.

She says: "In the past, I tended to use more condiments when I cooked, but nowadays, it's just sugar, salt, soya sauce and coconut oil."

Thanks to practical tips from the book, Zero Waste Home, and the Facebook group, Zero Waste Heroes, the journey has not been too rocky, she adds.

The most challenging part was in the first few months, when she and her husband were caught out by unexpected situations.

For instance, a cup of hot Milo came back with a plastic stirrer and their checked-in luggage had a sticker plastered on it.

They have since learnt to scan restaurants before making their orders and to travel without checking in their luggage.

Her husband found it difficult at first to refuse gifts from others. Ms Tin says: "I'd get upset when he came back from events with items, such as a T-shirt in a plastic bag."

So far, however, the people around them, including Ms Tin's parents, have been supportive.

Her mother-in-law sometimes still gives her food that comes in plastic bags or apples with stickers on them.

She says with a laugh: "I would quietly forget to bring them home or reject them gently."

To date, her glass bottle is about two-thirds full and is largely filled with small plastic parts, as well as some empty medicine blister packs and used dental floss.

She believes they are on track to keep all of this year's trash inside it.

She has not decided if she will keep her trash in another jar once this one fills up. But she is sure she and her husband are not returning to their previous way of life.

They have cut their spending by 40 per cent, through eating at home more often and buying fewer things.

Ms Tin says: "We also feel healthier as we usually dine in and eat mostly vegetables and grains."

Her greatest reward? "I feel so much less guilty towards the Mother Nature I love."

Baby, let's buy pre-loved

Being environmentally conscious rises to a new level of difficulty when one has children.

Outreach manager Benjamin Tay, 34, who carries his own lunchbox and cutlery, uses second-hand gadgets and does not drive, found being eco-conscious easy at first. But with the arrival of his daughter, Margaret, in 2013, reducing waste became more difficult.

"Babies seem to need so many things, from diapers to milk to toys," he says.

He and his wife, Wong Lexin, 33, a housewife, try their best. Margaret, who is turning three, wears cloth diapers at home and uses disposables only when they are out.

Other than a Lego set, which Mr Tay bought because she can "play with it for a long time", her toys are mostly gifts.

Her clothes are also either gifts or hand-me- downs.

Her stroller, diaper bag and storage boxes for toys were bought from a community marketplace for buying and selling.

The children's books she reads are borrowed from the library.

She sleeps in a toddler-sized bed which was converted from her cot and can be upgraded to a single bed.

The family, who live with Mr Tay's parents, are looking to buy a three-room Housing Board flat.

Mr Tay estimates he has saved at least $1,000 by turning to reusables and pre-loved items.

While he does take Margaret to toy stores, he lets her know in advance that she can only window shop and that she has many toys at home. "So far, she has not asked us to buy toys for her," he says.

When he was a child, he read a book about the impact of human behaviour on climate change and that influenced him to buy less and waste less.

Because of him, his wife of four years also does not patronise hawker stalls that use disposables.

Mr Tay sold his car this year to reduce pollution.

And to avoid creating electrical waste, he uses a second-hand phone, iPad and a refurbished Macbook.

The haze last year and its impact on his daughter - she had throat irritation and cough - boosted his conviction as an eco warrior.

He started volunteering at People's Movement To Stop Haze.

When the environmental non-governmental organisation was officially registered as a society in June, he became its manager of people and outreach.

While he is passionate about the environment, he would not go to extremes.

"I believe in making compromises. So if the coffee shop uncle does not want to pour the cup of coffee into my tumbler, I'd either finish up the cup of coffee there or pour it into my tumbler myself. Habits take time to change and he may have his constraints."

Reducing waste since she was 10

This eco warrior started young and in small ways.

Ms Oan Jia Xuan, 18, started recycling when she was 10.

The Hwa Chong Institution student says: "I remember putting plastic bottles, paper, metal cans and glass bottles into recycling bags and encouraging my parents to do the same."

In primary school, she urged her classmates to throw plastic bottles and paper into the school's recycling bins.

To save paper during maths class in secondary school, she drew a vertical line down her foolscap so she would have two columns to write in, instead of just one. She says: "The teacher told me not to do it a couple of times, but when I continued to do so, he just left it at that."

She never wastes food and was shocked to learn that others do. She says: "When I was in secondary school, I saw two full trays of beehoon being thrown into the dustbin after a buffet in school. I was shocked to see so much food being thrown away."

During recess, she started reminding her friends to finish their food or to ask for less rice in the first place.

She recalls with a laugh: "I think some of them became afraid to eat with me."

Joining the Green Council, an environmental club at Hwa Chong Institution, boosted her commitment to the green cause.

She became familiar with the waste statistics in Singapore and overseas.

Realising how serious the situation was, she started to consume less.

"I realised that of the 3 Rs of 'reduce, reuse and recycle', Reduce is the most important. If we can reduce, then we don't even need to think about reuse or recycle."

To reduce the use of plastic bags and styrofoam boxes, she takes a tumbler and lunchbox to "tar pau" food and uses a container when she buys buns from the bakery.

She also takes a washable cloth bag instead of a plastic bag to school for putting her soiled clothing in.

Recently, she stopped consuming Yakult, a drink she loves. She explains: "Each time after drinking, you need to throw away an 80ml bottle and a straw."

She has also stopped buying sweets, chocolates and biscuits that are individually packaged. Instead, she buys them in bulk if she wants to eat them.

To save electricity, she has been using cold water to shower for the past year. She charges her phone only once in two days.

Some of her habits have rubbed off on her parents. Her father, 55, who runs his own business, and her housewife mother, 53, now use reusable containers and shopping bags.

They live in a five-room Housing Board flat.

Jia Xuan is so fired up about the cause that she has written to one shopping mall and at least two supermarkets and eight companies, including clothing and furniture shops, to get them to switch from plastics to reusables.

She plans to pursue environmental studies in university.

She says: "I hope to be involved in policy-making one day and help Singapore become a more sustainable country."

Read more!

Residents come and go in ECP 'kampung'

MyPaper AsiaOne 10 Oct 16;

More than 50 homeless people live in tents that line the beach at East Coast Park.

Some tents were dismantled and the occupants moved out.

But new ones would move in, pitch their own tents and "squat" in them for as long as they need to.

And so the unlicensed tented community at a secluded part in Area D of East Coast Park, which popped up years ago and has shaped up to look like a "kampung" now, continues to exist.

It is where anyone without a home might come and set up their abodes among others.

Many living in the so-called "Tent Kampung" are new faces, who claimed they had moved in only recently, according to Shin Min Daily News.

A cleaner, who did not want to be identified, said she moved into the "kampung" after returning from Tianjin, her home for five years with her Chinese husband whom she had divorced.

She told the Chinese evening daily that she had fallen out with her family since coming home and did not like living in a rented house with others.

"Now I live here with a male friend.

"We have a quiet life, we keep the surroundings clean, and we do not create trouble," she said.

A man in his 60s said he is living now in the "kampung" with his wife as he is out of a job after injuring himself at work.

"If I am allotted a flat, I will immediately move in," added Mr Chen.

A man, who gave his name as Muhammad Ahmad Rahman and claimed to be the unofficial "penghulu" (village head), said the place consisted of more than a dozen families.

"We're all forced by different circumstances to come here. The tents are our home so please don't take picture," the 29-year-old told Shin Min.

"We commit no crime and rely on ourselves. Sometimes, an MP or volunteers from some family centres will come visit us," he added.

The "penghulu" noted that he did not like living in a welfare home as his freedom would be restricted.

But he admitted he had been issued tickets for "illegal camping in public" by the authorities many times.

Mr Muhammad said he spent only $100 to set up his "home", the purchases being the canvas, the tent rods, a chair and some drawers.

He revealed that he had been without a stable home for 11 years and is alone as his parents had died and his siblings were married.

Shin Min observed that all the homes there look self-sufficient, all containing essential items such as mattress, blanket, kitchen utensils and drying rack.

Some families even partitioned their homes into sleeping and living quarters.

But none has children, it noted.

The "kampung" is situated near a public toilet where the occupants could go to and have their daily baths.

According to the National Parks Board, camping without a permit in public parks is liable to a fine of up to $2,000.

Read more!

Malaysia: Environmentalist leads Malaysia's Asian elephants towards brighter future

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 9 Oct 16;

KUALA TERENGANU: Do not take our wildlife for granted as we have already lost the leatherback turtle and Sumatran rhinoceros, warned an environmental expert.

Wong Ee Phin, a final year PhD student at University of Nottingham Malaysia in Semenyih, Selangor, said that it is high time Malaysian stakeholders value and protect our flora and fauna for the benefit of future generations.

“We have to work together to conserve our precious gift. We have lost the leatherback turtle and Sumatran rhino. But there is still time to save our tigers, elephants, turtles and other wildlife, if we start now,” she said.

Even the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, had warned last year of the dangers of poaching, going to the extent of asking what would appear on our national emblem’s coat-of-arms if there were no more Malayan tigers left.

“Malaysia is blessed with high biodiversity and beautiful nature. It is a gift that many do not appreciate until it is lost.

“People from all over the world are fighting for a chance to work with wildlife in Malaysia, such as tigers, elephants and turtles,” said Ee Phin, who will speak on ‘Tracking wild Asian elephants in Peninsular Malaysia’ at the Terengganu International Eco and Marine Tourism conference at Primula Beach Hotel tomorrow.

She said although the Asian elephant is the largest land animal in Asia, it is very challenging to observe it in the wild and study it in the rainforest.

“In comparison to African Savannah elephants, very little is known about the ecology of elephants in the Asian forest, including their behaviour and social structure.

“The greatest threats to elephants in Peninsular Malaysia are habitat loss and fragmentation, which lead to an increase in Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC),” she said.
HECs in Malaysia, she added, occur mainly when elephants raid crops in plantations or villages.

“There is a vital need to work towards reducing HECs and increasing tolerance among communities so that they can coexist with elephants in the same landscape.” said Ee Phin, whose PhD is in Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME), which is a joint research project between the University of Nottingham Malaysia and the wildlife authorities of Peninsular Malaysia.

For the past five years, Ee Phin has been studying wild elephants in the rainforests of Malaysia together with her MEME colleagues, under the supervision of Dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz.
“MEME aims to build a local research capacity and carry out research that helps support the Malaysia
n wildlife authorities in their decision-making.
“Conservation and science go hand in hand, as we can only manage what we can measure,” she said.

Ee Phin is also a master’s graduate in ‘Wildlife Biology and Management’, with five years of working experience in Malaysia’s conservation scene, specifically on issues ranging from wetlands, to species biology and ground wildlife enforcement.

“My research focus is on developing non-invasive monitoring methods for Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) using hormone and parasitology techniques. What I am beginning to discover is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is so much more to learn.

“I hope my research will provide scientific data to help support the Malaysian authorities in making informed decisions about the management and conservation of wild elephants in Peninsular Malaysia,” she said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Jokowi urged to take bolder steps on Riau, Riau Islands airspace control

Fadli Fadli The Jakarta Post 9 Oct 16;

The Riau Islands Legislative Council has urged President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to continue to strive for Indonesian authorities to take over control over the Flight Information Region (FIR) over Riau and Riau Islands from Singapore.

The call comes after Indonesia failed in its bid for International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council membership for the period 2016-2019.

The council’s speaker, Jumaga Nadeak, said Indonesia’s failed ICAO Council membership bid was bad news for all Riau Islands residents, because it meant the islands’ airspace control would be still in the hands of Singapore. Indonesia could take over the FIR control only if it became an ICAO Council member.

“Indonesia’s sovereignty extends to land, airspace and territorial waters. Therefore, the control of airspace above Riau Islands must be discussed again and renegotiated. We will convey this matter to President Jokowi via the defense minister [Ryamizard Ryacudu] and foreign minister [Retno LP Marsudi],” Jumaga told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

The lawmaker explained that on Oct. 7, 2015, Riau Islands Legislative Council members met with then-Air Force chief of staff Air Marshal Agus Supriatna, adding that during the meeting, Agus had said the FIR control over Riau Islands would be handed over to Indonesia in 2019, several years earlier than initially planned.

“Now, that information must be followed up. We will remind President Jokowi to take over the FIR control from Singapore. We are a sovereign country,” said Jumaga.

Hang Nadim Airport general manager Suwarso said technically Indonesia would get many benefits if it took over control over the Riau and Riau Islands airspace from Singapore.

“If Indonesia controls the FIR, flight traffic in Riau and Riau Islands will be managed with economic considerations. Routes assigned to airlines will be shorter, which means there will be a more efficient use of fuel,” said Suwarso.

Currently, he said, Indonesian airlines had flight routes longer than they should and this was not economically feasible.

Citing an example, Suwarso said flight routes assigned to Indonesian airlines that served haj pilgrims departing from Hang Nadim Airport in Batam were from the north, causing unnecessarily long distances.

“Haj airplanes fly longer and spend more fuel because of the routes determined by aviation authorities in Singapore, and we cannot do anything about it, because it’s within their authority,” he said.

Although an airborne training module conducted by the Indonesian Military in the airspace above Riau and Riau Islands was fully controlled by the Air Force’s radar in Tanjung Pinang, in general Singapore still controlled and monitored it, he went on.

“It’s just like someone owns land but its use is controlled by other people,” said Suwarso. (ebf)

Read more!

Australia: Thousands without power as storms hit Victoria

Channel NewsAsia 9 Oct 16;

MELBOURNE: Wind gusts and storms lashed the Australian state of Victoria on Sunday (Oct 9), downing trees and causing power-outages for thousands of people.

Roughly 13,000 homes were without power across the country's second-most populous state and Melbourne's International Airport closed one of two runways, causing significant delays.

The outages come a week after severe storms and lighting strikes left all of South Australia state without power for nearly 24 hours, grinding industries to a halt.

An independent review into the South Australian blackout was launched on Friday, after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, of the conservative Liberal Party, blamed the state's high dependence on renewables for the outage.

Turnbull's assessment drew criticism from state leaders, who accused the prime minister of letting ideology drive his comments.

(Reporting by Jarni Blakkarly; Editing by Stephen Coates)

- Reuters

Read more!