Best of our wild blogs: 19-20 Nov 16

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wild shores of singapore

Favourite Nectaring Plants #8
Butterflies of Singapore

Night Walk At Mount Faber Park (18 Nov 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

#throughthegrapevine: The Lime Butterfly

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Bursting at the seams: Singapore's cast-off clothing

More than 156,000 tonnes of textile and leather waste was thrown away by Singaporeans last year, but only 8 per cent of such waste is recycled. Lianne Chia investigates whether the rate can be increased.
Lianne Chia Channel NewsAsia 18 Nov 16;

SINGAPORE: Racks of brightly coloured clothes line the aisles at the Salvation Army’s Family Thrift Store in Tanglin. A mannequin sporting a black, curly wig wears a black-and-white printed dress, while another models a red dress with a black skinny belt.

The racks are jammed tightly with clothes of varying patterns, sizes and brands, with some evidently brand new with tags still attached.

Singaporeans looking to clear their bursting wardrobes often turn to the charity as their first port of call. It accepts donations of clothing, furniture and other items like household goods.

But what is displayed in this store - and in fact across their five thrift stores islandwide - is only a small fraction of what it gets on a daily basis.

On average, the Salvation Army receives about 10 tonnes of donated items per day, about 60 per cent of which is clothing. The amount can go up to about 30 tonnes a day during peak periods like the month leading up to Christmas.

And the burgeoning mounds of clothes taken in by the charity highlights a larger problem - the sheer amount of cast-off clothing generated by Singaporeans.


According to statistics from the National Environment Agency (NEA), Singapore generated 156,700 tonnes of textile and leather waste last year. This category, according to an NEA spokesperson, includes used clothing, linen and bags.

But of this amount, only 12,500 tonnes were recycled, which brings Singapore’s recycling rate in this category to just 8 per cent. NEA said textile and leather waste that is “not segregated at source for recycling or reuse” is incinerated.

Singapore's rate appears to be part of a global problem. In the US, only about 16 per cent of textile waste was recycled in 2014, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency. In the UK, it is 14 per cent, according to a report published last year by the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs, citing 2011 figures.

Reducing the amount of clothing waste in Singapore is a challenge, according to Ms Nuramirah Suyin Zaihan, an environmental engineer at the Singapore Environment Council (SEC). Greater spending power naturally fuels the consumption rate of goods, leading to consumers buying more than they need, she explained.

“Consumers are unable to see the connection between clothing consumption and the resultant waste that they produce,” she said.

The proliferation of fast-fashion chains in neighbourhood malls may also be contributing to the issue.

“The emphasis of mass production of such clothing to consumers can result in clothes that are of poor quality and are not meant to last long,” explained Ms Nuramirah. “These clothes will not only have a low resale value, but have a high chance of ending up as waste."

“The competitive prices and convenience brought about by online shops and marketplaces also accelerate the clothing waste issue,” she added.

Research suggests this could be a key factor behind some people's buying habits.

As part of an upcoming documentary The Trash Trail, Channel NewsAsia surveyed 1,000 Singaporeans to find out how much clothing they discard, and why.

According to the results, Singaporeans buy about 34 pieces of brand new apparel per year, with almost half of them citing discounts as the main driver for doing so. And on average, they discard 27 items of clothing per year, citing reasons like “making space for new clothes”, “no longer fits” and “there are defects”.


People in Singapore are generally not aware of how and where they can recycle their old clothes, said Ms Nuramirah.

She added that due to a lack of education on proper recycling, cross-contamination of recycling bins is also a problem. “People should practise proper recycling habits by bagging recyclables like clothing waste and sealing it thoroughly to avoid any cross-contamination,” she said.

Unlike paper or food waste, which is thrown away instantly, clothing waste also tends to accumulate over long periods of time and gets discarded in large quantities when people spring-clean their wardrobes.

She added that as a result, it is common to find people donating their old clothes to charities like the Salvation Army.


The Salvation Army estimates that only about 8 to 10 per cent of donated clothes will be put on sale to members of the public because of the sheer number of items they receive.

“We receive so much clothing per day that it’s impossible for us to put it all on display in our shops,” said Mr David Lim, senior manager of wholesale and export for Red Shield Industries, the charity’s social enterprise arm.

He explained that the clothes on sale at the charity’s thrift stores have passed two rounds of quality checks - first at the charity’s central processing centre, and again at the shop. Whatever does not make the cut will be returned to the processing centre for export to Malaysia and Indonesia.

“The funds we receive will help the Salvation Army in transforming lives,” he added.

But while donating to charities is one way to reduce the amount of clothes being thrown away in Singapore, Ms Nuramirah noted that “a mindset and lifestyle change is needed”.

How can this mindset and lifestyle change be effected? For one woman, the answer comes in the form of a sewing needle.


While Singaporeans throng shopping malls looking for the latest cheap clothing, Ms Agatha Lee estimates that she buys new clothes for herself and her family only once or twice a year.

Instead, she combines her skill with the sewing needle with her passion for the environment and finds ways to turn her old clothes into new items for herself and her home. She describes the process as “upcycling”, or turning discarded items into functional products of even higher quality and value.

She recounted: “A few years back, I realised I had a lot of clothes in my wardrobe. Initially, I was going to throw them away or donate them, but then I realised it would be such a waste because while I was clearing out my wardrobe, I would also be buying even more clothes.

“I browsed on the Internet and realised there was a whole community of people who were upcycling their clothes, so that was how I got started.”

A look around her Woodlands flat reveals evidence of her creative flair: A desk chair has been reupholstered with covers made out of an old pair of jeans. Her cat is curled up on a picnic blanket made out of scrap material from discarded clothes. And a mannequin displays a halter top made out of what used to be a pair of trousers.

It was not long before Ms Lee, who works part-time, began sharing her upcycling tutorials online. And her friends soon encouraged her to start running workshops to show Singaporeans how their unwanted clothes can be turned into something new.

“I was engaged by a lot of corporates and schools, and last year, I decided to have my own series of workshops,” she said. Participants in her full-day workshop learn the basics of sewing using a sewing machine, and try their hand at turning two or three of their own items of clothing into something new.

“At the last workshop, one lady converted her dress into her bag that was really well done, and there was another lady who had never sewn in her life, and she converted two of her husband’s T-shirts into cushion covers, complete with zips,” she recalled.

“You don’t need a lot of sewing skills and you don’t need to chop up the whole item to make it into another garment,” she added. “It can actually be a very fun activity and doesn’t have to take too much time.”

But upcycling aside, Ms Lee said the simplest means of reducing the vast amount of clothing waste Singapore generates is for people to change their mindset and buy fewer clothes. “Even before you enter the store, decide whether you even need that item of clothing,” she said.

“Because once you buy it and find you don’t want to wear it anymore, you’re probably going to end up throwing it into the bin.”


And that is where one business comes in - to save good clothing from the bin and in the process, save people some money.

With warm lighting and pop music blasting through the store, the flagship Refash outlet at City Plaza resembles any other store in the mall selling clothes targeting young fashionable women looking for a good bargain.

But there is one difference - everything for sale on the racks is second-hand, and going for a fraction of its original price. A beige knit sweater from Uniqlo costs S$10, while a black flare dress from New Look sells for S$12.

Refash founder Aloysius Sng hopes to provide a simple solution for what he described as “a real problem in the market”: That people do not wear a lot of items in their closet. He noted that a lot of these items also tend to be in almost mint condition and still on-trend.

“With shortening trends and fast-fashion brands producing new designs faster than ever, that also means that consumers are consuming fast-fashion faster than ever,” he said. “We make it extremely simple for ladies to clean out their wardrobe, by just stuffing all their unwanted clothes in a bag, passing it to us, and we’ll do the rest.”

Clothes that reach Refash are sorted, tagged and either put on the racks at one of the company’s physical stores or listed on their website for sale, explained Mr Sng. The company takes a small service fee for each sale. “We accept mostly fast-fashion brands like H&M, Uniqlo, Topshop and Zara, and local brands like Love Bonito and MDS.”

“The clothes just have to be on-trend and in like-new condition,” he added.

Refash accepts about 80 per cent of the clothes it receives, he added. Clothes that are rejected upon sorting or are not sold after some time are either returned to the seller, donated to charity or exported overseas for sale.

Over the last nine months, Refash has processed more than 80,000 pieces of clothing and made about half a million dollars in sales revenue. And Mr Sng said there is a waiting list of more than 1,000 people looking to sign up with them.

He said these are encouraging signs that Singaporeans are becoming more open to the idea of buying and wearing second-hand clothes. “Just three weeks ago, we had a warehouse sale … and a stream of people queuing up to shop for second-hand clothes. It just goes to show that when second-hand is presented in a manner that hasn’t been done before, people are receptive to it.”

“We can’t say for sure that we’ve reduced textile waste by 10 or 20 per cent, but it’s a small step towards a longer term vision … to inspire a new generation of consumers to always think second-hand first,” he added.

The Trash Trail will be aired on Channel NewsAsia on Jan 31 at 8pm.

- CNA/lc

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Botanic Gardens to take over Cluny cluster

Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times AsiaOne 19 Nov 16;

The historic cluster of five houses on the fringe of the Botanic Gardens could soon be home to a research and education hub for the Unesco World Heritage site when the leases for academic, dining and entertainment facilities there expire next year.

The National University of Singapore Society's (NUSS) Bukit Timah Guild House, whose lease expires in March, is among those affected.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Singapore Botanic Gardens' director Nigel Taylor said the Gardens will take over the Cluny Road buildings in phases, and use them for "research and educational outreach purposes".

Heritage experts said this could mean a new avenue for the public to learn more about the 156-year-old Gardens, which is home to more than 10,000 plant species.

The Gardens was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage site last year, joining a league of more than 1,000 global treasures.

The National Parks Board (NParks) will not be renewing the leases of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), restaurant Blue Bali, and the Bukit Timah Guild House. NParks took over management of the houses, which fall under the Gardens' 49ha Unesco boundary, in 2005.

The Gardens' Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology presently occupies Houses 1 and 3. Restaurant Blue Bali is in House 4, and the Guild House in House 2.

IPS has been renting House 5 and an annexe building in 1C Cluny Road since 2008, following its merger with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy nearby in 469C Bukit Timah Road.

An IPS spokesman said the institution has not made any plans to move.

Managing director Robin Greatbatch of Blue Bali, which has been at the cluster for five years, said:

"We expected that NParks would re-tender the house to us, and haven't heard anything officially.

"We spent $2 million putting the place together and building an extensive outdoor restaurant with greenery. We're seeking dialogue as we feel we can contribute educationally while providing a unique outdoor dining space."

NParks said Blue Bali's tenancy will expire towards the end of next year. "We will therefore be contacting them early next year on their lease matters," added Dr Taylor.

Some older members of NUSS had lamented the loss of the Bukit Timah location where they had studied at the then University of Singapore.

Responding to queries, the Guild House said it set up a task force in July to explore other options.

The Cluny Road cluster was built in the 1920s to house academics of Raffles College, Singapore's first tertiary college. It then housed the Economics Department of the University of Malaya, later renamed the University of Singapore, and then NUS.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, said the Gardens' move towards developing a research-focused cluster is strategic, and "makes sense" since it is sited within an education and research hub.

Dr Taylor said plans for the cluster are in line with the Gardens' responsibility as a Unesco World Heritage site "to be a leader in botanical research, and to inform and educate the general public in respect of its rich historical, cultural and scientific significance and outstanding universal values". He added that more details will be shared when ready.

The Gardens currently houses a heritage museum at Holttum Hall in the Tanglin Core of the Gardens, and by 2018 will also have a new forest conservation interpretive centre and natural art history gallery at two restored bungalows in Gallop Road.

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Malaysia: Indonesian worker trampled to death by wild elephant

BERNAMA New Straits Times 20 Nov 16;

TAWAU: An Indonesian man was trampled to death by an elephant in Dumpas timber plantation area near here, earlier today.

District police chief Assistant Commissioner Fadil Marsus who confirmed the incident said the victim, a 48-year employee at the plantation died of head injuries after being trampled by a wild elephant.

“A distress call was received around 3.22pm to inform us that there was a victim who had died after an elephant attacked him at the Dumpas timber plantations near the border of Bombalai towards Kalabakan,” he told Bernama.

According to him, the victim was taken to the Tawau Hospital.

This is the second incident of an elephant attacking civilians this month.

On Nov 9, around 6.15am an Indonesian couple were attacked by a wild elephant that suddenly went raging into the timber plantation in Brumas area near Tawau.

Both victims, both plantation workers known as Santoko Satria, 44 who suffered minor injuries and his wife Susi Sudirman, 36, who sustained serious bodily and face injuries after being attacked by the elephant.

Since the incident, workers at the timber plantation were worried and cautious about their safety due to threats posed by wild elephants even when they are not provoked. --BERNAMA

Possible culling for bull elephant that killed man in Tawau
RUBEN SARIO The Star 20 Nov 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The elephant that killed an Indonesian plantation worker in the east coast Tawau district may be culled, says Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga.

He said its rangers were now tracking down the animal, and would observe it before deciding on the next course of action.

The bull elephant, said Augustine, was part of a herd of 30 animals roaming within in the Kalabakan area.

"We will observe the elephant and assess if it is a habitual offender and could harm humans again.

"This is a protected animal. So, we have to be careful what we do," he said, adding that the department's options were limited.

Augustine added that the animal was likely to have been in musth during the attack.

Musth is a state or condition of violent, destructive frenzy occurring with the rutting season in male elephants.

The 48-year-old worker was reportedly trampled to death by the bull elephant at the Dumpas timber plantation at Kalabakan on Saturday afternoon.

On Nov 9, a couple was attacked by a wild elephant in Brumas.

Indonesian Susi Sudiman, 36, who was stomped on during the attack, suffered a serious spinal injury as well as rib fractures while her husband, 40-year-old Santoko Santra, was slightly hurt in the chest after being hit by the elephant's trunk.

The couple were having breakfast with five other workers at their work site during the attack.

Augustine said the elephant in the latest case was different from the one that attacked the couple.

Jumbo that killed Indonesian worker may be culled
The Star 21 Nov 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The elephant that killed an Indonesian plantation worker in the east coast Tawau district may be culled, said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga.

He said rangers were now tracking down the animal and would be observing it before deciding on their next course of action.

“This is a protected animal. So, we have to be careful in whatever we do with it,” he said, adding that the department’s options were limited.

The bull elephant, said Augustine, was part of a herd of 30 animals roaming within the area in Kalabakan.

“We will observe the elephant and assess if it is a habitual offender and could harm humans again,” he said, adding that the animal was likely to have been in musth during the attack.

Musth is a state or condition of violent, destructive frenzy occurring with the rutting season in male elephants.

The 48-year-old worker was trampled to death by the elephant at the Dumpas timber plantation at Kalabakan on Saturday afternoon.

On Nov 9, a couple were attacked by a wild elephant in Brumas. Indonesian Susi Sudiman, 36, who was stomped on during the attack, suffered serious spinal injury as well as rib fractures while her husband, 40-year-old Santoko Santra, was slightly hurt in the chest after being hit by the elephant’s trunk.

The couple were having breakfast with five other workers at their work site when the attack occurred.

Augustine said the elephant in the latest case was different from the one that attacked the couple.

Bull elephant that killed man in Sabah culled
RUBEN SARIO The Star 21 Nov 16;

KOTA KINABALU: A bull elephant that killed a man at a timber plantation in the east coast Tawau district has been culled by Sabah Wildlife Department rangers.

Department director Augustine Tuuga said the male elephant was shot and killed late Sunday, a day after it trampled the Indonesian national to death on Nov 19.

He said the rangers had tracked down the bull elephant and determined that there was a likelihood of the animal attacking humans again.

"We did not want to take any chances with this bull as it had already killed a human," said Augustine.

"There was a real possibility that this bull elephant would attack again if it came across anyone in its path," he added.

He said the bull elephant had been in musth – a periodic state of heightened sexual activity and aggression in adult male pachyderms.

Musth is caused by a marked increase of testosterone in the animal, resulting in the bull elephant's very violent behaviour, Augustine explained.

"I have directed my officers in the east coast region to be on high alert to monitor the movements of the elephant herds within their ranges and evaluate the behaviour of other elephants in the herd as well," he added.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the decision to cull the bull elephant was a difficult one.

"We did it with great reluctance but human lives are paramount," he added.

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Malaysia: Expect rain and storm this week

The Star 20 No 16;

PETALING JAYA: This week is expec­ted to be wet and stormy as the monsoon season intensifies.

Data from the Malaysian Meteorological Department shows that rain and thunderstorms are expected to hit many states in the next five days, particularly in the afternoon and evening.

Scattered and isolated thunderstorms are expected in Johor, Kedah, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Sarawak and Selangor this week.

Kelantan and Terengganu will experience plenty of isolated rain particularly in the coastal areas.

Increase in rainfall is also expected in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor from this month until December following the north-east monsoon season.

As for Sabah, the state will see rain and thunderstorms in the next five days.

A flood warning has been issued in the state.

The monsoon season, which is expected to begin this week and end in March next year, could result in continuous rain for three to five days and cause floods.

The Department of Irrigation and Drainage has also issued a caution on its Public Info Banjir website about excessive rainfall in parts of the Kinta Valley in Perak.

For warnings and updates on water levels and flood situations, go to

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Indonesia not quitting coal, but eyes more renewable energy

Adisti Sukma Sawitri The Jakarta Post 19 Nov 16;

For a low-powered country like Indonesia where electricity is still a luxury, the coal way is often the only way.

It is the cheapest source of energy as the country’s mines produce the fourth largest stocks of coal

But even that is not enough. The government’s target to generate 35,000 megawatts (MW) of power will only bring energy consumption per capita to 1,200 kilowatts per hour (kWh), much lower than the 1,600 kWh achieved by Vietnam today.

Today Indonesia still consumes 900 kWh, more than half of which comes from coal and with very little support from renewable energy.

This has brought skepticism of the government’s targets to reduce coal contribution to 30 percent and reach 23 percent in the use of renewables by 2030 as proposed to the UN climate change forum in Marrakesh this year.

National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said the goal to reach a smaller share of coal in the energy mix was not about quitting coal, but about increasing efforts to establish renewables.

“There are plans to further use coal-fired power plants, but such contributions may get smaller if we succeed in developing other sources of energy like gas and renewables,” he told The Jakarta Post during the sidelines of the climate forum.

As a signatory of the Paris Agreement, a global pact that binds countries to commit to the reduction of emissions, Indonesia has pledged to cut emissions by 29 percent by 2030 or 41 percent with international support. The agreement has been ratified into law, making the targets obligatory.

Reducing coal and embracing the renewables were among the strategies to reach the agreement’s goals, along with efforts to stop forest fires.

Bambang said after looking at all options of renewables, including wind and solar energy, the most feasible path to reach the goal by 2030 involved hydropower and energy generated from domestic and industrial waste, with plantation waste from bamboo and oil palm plantations being highly sought after.

The government was also looking to reach remote areas and small islands with the renewables.

“The cost to install renewables in the regions makes sense, as long as we don’t offer it in places that are close to coal-fired plants. It won’t be able to compete,” he said.

Faby Tumiwa, an electricity expert from the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), said it was better for the government to look for other options such as wind power and solar power as the power capacity generated from waste was relatively lower.

While a solar plant and wind plant could generate 900 GW and 100 GW respectively, a biomass plant only generates 3 to 6 MW.

“There has been a significant drop in prices of solar technology worldwide. At the same costs or lower than biomass, we can get bigger power capacity from solar [energy],” said Faby.

He said the cost to install a solar panel now ranges from US$4 to 16 cents per kWh while it costs $12 to 17 cents per kWh for biomass.

However, the options still often result in more expensive electricity compared to coal, making state operator PLN reluctant to look beyond coal.

Bambang said the government was still trying to provide more incentives for PLN and investors to embrace the renewables.

The government will push forward to propose a Rp 1.5 trillion ($112.5 million) subsidy to subsidize electricity produced from the renewable sources.

“We will propose again the subsidy in the [2017] budget revision. This is not about subsidizing businesspeople, but about developing the renewables,” said Bambang.

The Marrakech climate talks ended Friday in more subdued tones than its Paris edition last year. As delegates questioned the United States’ commitment under the incoming administration led by Donald Trump, donor and recipient countries had yet to agree on the guidelines in which international climate funding will be channeled.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said she will focus on bilateral talks to get support for the country.

“Delegates from donor countries were excited about Indonesia and expressed the intention to cooperate. This is something that we can achieve while waiting for results from the climate forum,” she said.

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Indonesia: Landslides hit areas across Semarang

Suherdjoko Suherdjoko The Jakarta Post 18 Nov 16;

An early start to the rainy season in Central Java has led to several areas across the province’s capital, Semarang, suffering landslides.

Heavy rain, which fell in Semarang from Sunday through Tuesday, caused landslides in five locations — two in Lempongsari and three others in Deliksari, Randusari and Tegalsari. All landslides occurred in hilly areas. No injuries or fatalities were reported in the incidents.

On Thursday, local residents continued to clean up and repair houses hit by the landslides. The landslide in Lempongsari subdistrict, Gajahmungkur district, damaged the back part of a house belonging to local resident Suratman when a huge rock struck his house. The home of another Lempongsari resident, Kristanto, was damaged when a retaining wall collapsed in the incident.

Semarang Mayor Hendrar Prihadi visited the affected sites on Wednesday. “I ask the Semarang Disaster Mitigation Agency [BPBD] to coordinate with the Indonesian Military, the National Police and local residents to jointly clean up and repair houses damaged by the landslides,” he said.

Hendrar added that his administration had mapped out areas with the potential to suffer from natural disasters, such as floods, landslides and high tides, during this year’s rainy season.

“We also want all residents to stay alert in facing this extreme weather,” he added.

BPBD head Budi Setiawan said 13 areas were prone to landslides in Central Java — Bongsari, Candi, Gisikdrono, Jomblang, Kembangarum, Lempongsari, Petompon, Randusari, Simongan, Tambakaji, Tembalang, Tinjomoyo and Wonosari. (ebf)

More absorption wells needed to mitigate flooding: Hydrologist
The Jakarta Post 18 Nov 16;

A renowned hydrologist has urged regional administrations in flood-prone areas to create more absorption wells to anticipate possible future floods, as the rainy season is unlikely to end soon.

Water and hydrology expert Fatchy Muhammad said creating more artificial aquifers was imperative to restore the balance of nature, as a lot of catchment areas have been sacrificed to accommodate public and business interests.

“Many catchment areas have now been transformed into something else. If transforming a forest to a farm greatly affects water absorption capacity, imagine when it is transformed into a housing complex,” he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Fatchy said urban development was inevitable but with good and well-planned government regulations, such as requiring developers to create more water retention facilities like absorption wells, the situation would improve.

Floods have hit areas across the country recently, with data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) showing that 659 floods have affected the archipelago, while simultaneous floods and landslides had occurred 53 times as of mid-November.

On Monday, water from overflowing rivers flooded thousands of houses in the West Java municipalities of Tangerang, Bekasi and Karawang following heavy rain. In Telukbuyung village, Karawang regency, 678 houses, two mosques, two schools and seven prayer rooms were inundated, while at the Bintang Alam housing complex, 650 houses had been flooded, affecting 997 people.

On Tuesday, flooding in Rokan Hulu regency, Riau province, inundated almost 2,000 houses in five districts. The province is notorious for illegal forest fires.

Last month, a major flood in Gorontalo regency, Gorontalo province, hit more than a thousand houses, including Dunda Limboto Hospital, forcing the hospital's management to move 80 patients to emergency shelters.

BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Thursday that the agency had yet to calculate the potential losses inflicted by the recent disasters. “We have only calculated the losses caused by flood in Garut, West Java, which amounted to Rp 288 billion [US$ 21.58 million],” he said, referring to a flood in the regency that reportedly killed 15 people.

Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) spokesperson Harry Tirto said on Thursday that more flooding could occur, as the rainy season was predicted to continue until May next year.

“This needs to be anticipated; water management and the use of land should be reviewed. Rivers might need to be revitalized and more biospheres need to be planted,” he said. (fac)

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Japan: Majority of Sekisei shoko coral reef dies with 97 % extremely severely bleached

Ryukyu Shimpo 10 Nov 16;

The Ministry of the Environment’s Naha Office announced results from a survey on Sekisei shoko coral reef, one of the largest coral reef in Japan. The reef was being monitored for bleaching due to long-term high water temperatures this summer. The result was made public on November 9. The result shows that 97 percent of the coral reef is bleached, of which 56.7 percent is considered to be “a totally dead colony.” The ministry will conduct another survey in the same area by end of the year, warning “the result is anticipated to be extremely serious with more dead colonies.”

The survey was conducted over 35 points in the Sekisei shoko area between September 29 and October 4. The bleaching level was 89.6 percent during the first survey conducted between July 26 and August 17. The ministry concluded that most of the samples deemed “partially bleached/partially dead/totally faded” or “fully bleached” in late July faced worse damage due to the high-water temperature that lasted until early September. The ministry also conducted a similar survey over 36 points around the Keramashoto National park area between October 6 and 25. The average rate of bleaching is 15.2 percent, of which 1.9 percent is completely dead.

(English translation by T&CT and Sayaka Sakuma) 

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Endangered dolphins at risk as controversial Don Sahong dam takes shape

Jack Board Channel NewsAsia 18 Nov 16;

DON DET, Laos: “When I was born, my grandparents told me, ‘The dolphins are special. If you see them, you will get good luck. If you capsize your boat, the dolphins will save you. You can trust them.'”

The young man in his 20s is standing on the bank of the Mekong River in a section that a small pod of the critically-endangered Irrawaddy dolphin calls home - a home which is about to sit next to perhaps the most divisive hydropower dam project in the region.

He is a local guide in the Four Thousand Islands, a major tourism hotspot in a land still largely reliant on subsistence farming and age-old fishing practices. He recounts a long tale of how dolphins first came here, how they are considered special and why locals fear the shy residents could depart forever.

It is estimated that there are only about 80 of the animals left in the Mekong. At this part of the river, straddling the border of Cambodia and Laos, there are, at most, only five.

“The dolphin is the natural treasure of Cambodia; it's the special species attached to the people's hearts,” said Un Chakrey from WWF Cambodia. “People love them and don't want to lose them.”

Now, the dolphin’s plight in these waters has come to represent the environmental struggle engulfing the Don Sahong project. Developed by Malaysian power company Mega First Corporation and built by Chinese construction firm Sinohydro, the dam’s construction will block the main channel of the river which is seen by many as Southeast Asia’s lifeblood.

Critics argue that even if the hydropower project can produce the 260 megawatts of electricity it promises to, the ecological damage it will cause to the local and wider environment makes it irresponsible and unfeasible. Yet construction has swiftly begun, supported by the Lao government, despite calls for more studies from neighbouring countries Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Excavators are busy at the site, where the foundations for a 32-metre dam wall are being prepared. Timed explosions and the whirring of heavy duty machinery are at odds with the serenity of the area, where the only sounds normally come from the occasional fishing boat and the busy fauna of the forest.

In Laos, however, this is progress.


The government has lofty ambitions to make this landlocked nation the battery of the region - Laos itself is also becoming thirstier for electricity - and has plans for a total of up to 10 mainstream Mekong dams in the coming years.

The aim is to provide a reliable source of electricity for local communities, with spare capacity being exported overseas to bring in more revenue to help fund national development.

Don Sahong is a small project compared to others, such as the 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi dam further north, but its location next to a dolphin habitat and an essential fish migration path has drawn widespread criticism.

Yet, with civil society strictly controlled by the Communist government, opponents of projects like Don Sahong cannot readily speak out in Laos.

Villagers in the hundreds of island communities around Don Det live in an apparently muted state; most dare not say anything about the project, positive or negative, or even raise questions about the impact on their lives.

Speaking anonymously, one local man told Channel NewsAsia that many people are angry about the development but have little means to express themselves. “We are powerless. We can’t say anything,” he said.

“There is no one to stand up for us. People can’t fight. Everyone is quiet and scared. We don’t know what will happen, if places will flood or not. They tell us no, but how can we be sure?”

Those with positions of power within the local communities can speak - but do so cautiously - making it clear that they have been regularly consulted as the dam’s construction has got underway. Kam Pao, the village chief of Don Sadam, an island close to the site, said he could not be sure if the project would be good or bad, but mentioned concerns, including the impact on rice farmers and the relocation of some villagers.

Only a small number of residents needed to move due to the relatively small size of the Don Sahong’s reservoir, but many lost access to their generational agriculture fields.

“The project has to be done very carefully. They have to keep the water clean,” said Kam Pao. The village has emotional connections to the nearby dolphins and has watched anxiously amid chemical flows and underwater explosions from the dam’s construction.

“The dolphins don’t want to move anywhere. This is their home,” he said. “The dolphins are like people. People want to see the dolphins. In Laos, we have only this, these ones here."

“There is change happening here - for the people and for nature,” he added.

That change is being felt just across the border in Cambodia too. Only there - less than two kilometres away - opposition to the dam is rampant and loud.


Preah Rumkel is a community trying to transform itself. It is poor, isolated and has stood on the toil of agriculture and fishing for as long as it has existed.

In recent years, citizens have tried to take advantage of eco-tourism, using the natural environment they depend on for survival to earn money from visitors. They feel their entire enterprise is now at risk.

While concern is mild about tourists flocking away from the backpacker haven on the Lao side of the border if the dolphins disappeared, in Cambodia it is a white-hot issue.

“I can assume that if we lose the dolphins, we may get less or no income. I don’t have anything to do besides doing farming if the eco-tourism closes,” said Yin Vuth, the director of the eco-tourism community in Preah Rumkel.

“I want to ask who will take responsibility if anything wrong happens to us.”

Deputy director of Onlong Psoat Eco-tourism Lok Chanthu shared similar sentiments. “I hope our government won’t close their eyes to ignore what is happening. We don’t see any benefit from the hydropower construction. Cambodian citizens are the victims,” she said.

The risk of an adverse environmental impact in Cambodia is not clear. No transboundary impact assessment was ever undertaken to measure what will happen to the downstream Mekong, which flows into the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, and eventually into Vietnam. The river’s delta is the country’s “rice bowl”.

“It’s an iconic river, it’s also a shared river. So, one country shouldn’t decide unilaterally how to use this shared resource,” said Tanja Venisnik, a lawyer and human rights specialist.

She is one of many voices questioning the process whereby the dam’s construction has continued despite a lack of general consultation.

“We have been asking for a long time for the developers and other stakeholders to conduct appropriate baseline studies around fish species, which fish migrate through these channels and provide proof about how mitigation measures will be effective and consult with affected communities,” she said. “However, Mega First has not done any of that yet.”

The company did not respond to requests to be interviewed, but evidence suggests that Mega First has implemented several measures to reduce the environmental impact, including fish studies and monitoring. Yet criticism has been levelled at it and the Lao government for continuing construction before those methods could be tested.

“The prior consultation process was underway while the Lao government was going ahead with the project,” Venisnik said. “They were signing agreements (while) doing preliminary construction. It’s very dubious to say negotiations were done in good faith.”

Tek Vannara from Cambodia’s NGO Forum is a leading voice in environmental advocacy and negotiation in the region. He has fears for not only for the local environment but the entire river system.

“Our worry is the negative impact on the food security of the Cambodian people. Seventy to 80 per cent depend on the agricultural system, river resources, water resources and fisheries,” he said.

“Without good management of the forestry and watershed of the reservoir and the dam, how will they survive in the future? It will destroy the source of the water.”

The future appears even bleaker for the few remaining Irrawaddy dolphins in the cross-hairs of the project. From boats and kayaks, tourists keenly keep their eyes on the waves, hoping for a glimpse of the shy creatures.

Mostly they deliver, frolicking in the fast-rushing monsoonal waters, teasing with the occasional flash of a dorsal fin or tail. The question is for how much longer.

"It’s a serious concern,” said Chhith Sam Ath, WWF Cambodia Country Director. “If you travel by boat on the Mekong, you will see a lot of beautiful landscape, wetlands and a lot of species, which could be destroyed. The ecological system of the Mekong, up to the Tonle Sap, the fish, all of it will be destroyed."

“The dolphins in particular are very sensitive, you cannot move them from location to location. It's not like a dolphin in the sea. They don't want to leave their home, they've been there for thousands of years,” he said.

“The dolphins are a reflection of the health of the Mekong as a whole. When you have dolphins, you still have fish. But if the dolphins are gone, that means everything is gone.”

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Smog may be easing, but in parts of China water quality worsens

David Stanway and Sue-Lin Wong, Reuters Yahoo News 18 Nov 16;

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - China is making progress in battling the damaging smog that can shroud its big cities, but in many areas - from parts of the giant Yangtze river to the coalfields of Inner Mongolia - its water pollution is getting worse.

Despite commitments to crack down on polluters, the quality of water in rivers, lakes and reservoirs in several regions has deteriorated significantly, according to inspection teams reporting back to the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP).

In documents published this week, inspectors found that a fifth of the water in the Yangtze's feeder rivers in one province was unusable, and thousands of tonnes of raw sewage were being deposited into one river in northeastern Ningxia each day.

Worried about unrest, China launched its war on pollution in 2014, vowing to reverse the damage done to its skies, rivers and soil by more than three decades of breakneck industrial growth.

"We still have a lot of work to do," vice-minister Zhao Yingmin said at a press briefing on Friday.

"First, I'd say the point of inspections is to discover problems, and indeed we discovered in some places water quality has gotten significantly worse," he said, noting, though, that the overall situation was improving.

Over the first nine months of this year, 70.3 percent of samples taken from 1,922 surface water sites around China could be used as drinking water, up 4 percentage points from a year ago, Zhao said.


China has long been worried about a water supply bottleneck that could jeopardize future economic development. Per capita supplies are less than a third of the global average.

A survey published by the MEP last year showed that nearly two thirds of underground water and a third of surface water was unsuitable for human contact, with much of it contaminated by fertilizer run-offs, heavy metals and untreated sewage.

China's priority, though, has been air pollution, especially in industrialized regions like Beijing and Hebei, and it said this week that concentrations of harmful small particles, known as PM2.5, fell 12.5 percent in January-October.

"With air, you stop pollution at the source, and the blue skies come back instantly," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, which monitors Chinese water pollution.

"For water, you can stop pollution at the source, but you still have the polluted sediment and the soil that is going to leech into the water, and it's going to take much longer."


China grades its water in five categories. Grade three and above is deemed safe for direct human contact, while grades four and five can only be used in industry and agriculture. Water "below grade five" has "lost all functionality".

In an action plan published last year, the government vowed to improve water quality nationwide by 2030, and it aims to bring large volumes of unusable "below grade five" water back into the economy.

While improvements have been made in the past five years, China's growing demand for water has put increasing pressure on its limited resources, and sources of pollution have not been put under adequate control, said vice-minister Zhao.

This week, the top coal producing province of Shanxi revealed that 29 of the 100 surface water sites tested between January and September were found to be "below grade five", with water in the city of Datong deteriorating sharply over the period.

In the manufacturing powerhouse of Jiangsu near Shanghai on the eastern coast, inspectors found that the Yangtze, China's longest river, wasn't being protected. They said 20.5 percent of water samples taken from feeder rivers were "below grade five" last year, an increase of 11.4 percentage points in a year.

The number of surface water monitoring sites meting state standards in the coal producing region of Inner Mongolia fell by 7.7 percentage points, and the number categorized as "below grade five" rose by more than three percentage points.

In Ningxia in the northwest, another growing coal producer, water at two lakes had deteriorated from grade three to "below grade five", and inspectors found that 6,400 tonnes of raw sewage was being deposited into one river each day.

Ammonia and phosphate concentrations in one reservoir in rural Guangxi in the southwest, doubled last year as a result of pollution from farming and fishing, the ministry said.

China said this year it would spend 430 billion yuan ($62.4 billion) on around 4,800 separate projects aimed at improving the quality of its water supplies, though it did not give a timeframe.

"You need infrastructure, and there is a deficit that we have to catch up ... but the problem is how to find the motivation to clean up and behave properly, and stop pollution at the source," said Ma at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

(Reporting by David Stanway and Sue-Lin Wong; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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Pacific nation of Kiribati establishes large shark sanctuary

NICK PERRY Associated Press Yahoo News 19 Nov 16;

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The island nation of Kiribati has established a large shark sanctuary that will help ensure the creatures are protected across much of the central Pacific.

Vice President Kourabi Nenem said at the sanctuary's launch on Friday that the nation was committed to protecting sharks from exploitation and overfishing.

Kiribati has banned commercial shark fishing in the sanctuary, which is about the size of India.

Palau established the first shark sanctuary in the region in 2009, and has been followed by the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia and other nations.

The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that 100 million sharks are killed each year by commercial fisheries. It says sharks are vulnerable to overfishing because they're slow to mature and reproduce.

Sharks are prized by some for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup.

Ben Namakin, who was born in Kiribati and has pushed for the sanctuary, said he first began to consult elders and community groups with the idea about four years ago. He said some people were resistant at first because Kiribati had a tradition of catching and eating sharks.

But he said the elders didn't like the way commercial operators were fishing for the creatures and understood their plight more when told of their unusual biology.

"They came to realize the shark sanctuary was important to protecting our culture," Namakin said.

Luke Warwick, the director of Pew's global shark conservation campaign, said the Pacific islands were leading the way when it came to protecting sharks and that Kiribati's announcement represented another significant step.

He said enforcement of the sanctuaries throughout the Pacific remained a difficult issue.

Warwick said the image of sharks was changing.

"Although they got a bad rap in the past, there's a growing movement that sees them as quite vulnerable," he said. "They need very strong protection."

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