Best of our wild blogs: 10-11 Dec 16

Ubin Bioblitz 2016
Butterflies of Singapore

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Save Singapore's freshwater streams

Lim Han She For The Straits Times 10 Dec 16;

Two at Teacher's Estate are slated to make way for housing. But creative solutions, such as multi-functional spaces, may help them flow, not go

The current drought across the Causeway in Johor highlights water resource issues plaguing Singapore. However, while Singapore may be a small nation state, it has put in place alternative water supply measures. These include desalination plants; expanding local reservoirs; the national water agency PUB's Active, Beautiful, Clean (ABC) Waters Programme; plus efforts to change behaviour to make consumers more resilient.

However, ensuring a reliable supply of water is only part of the equation of becoming a sustainable, resilient and liveable city of the future.

The recent United Nations Habitat III New Urban Agenda 2016 calls for cities to "protect, conserve, restore, and promote their ecosystems, water, natural habitats, and biodiversity, minimise their environmental impact, and change to sustainable consumption and production patterns".

Rivers provide important ecosystem services such as clean water, flood protection, habitats, biodiversity and recreational and social amenities to urban residents. Urban rivers are, however, often highly degraded, modified, polluted and ugly.

River and catchment health are so important that the state of California awarded infrastructure status to its catchments and rivers two months ago. Catchments and rivers are now classified as California's key water supply assets and are eligible for the same forms of financing for maintenance and repair as other water collection and treatment infrastructure.

Singapore has over 8,000km of waterways, which are mostly concrete drains and canals.

Recent ambitious river restoration projects under the ABC Waters Programme have resulted in aesthetically pleasing riverscapes that provide social amenities.

The Kallang River-Bishan Park and Alexandra Canal are two examples. The Kallang River-Bishan Park project is so successful that it won the Waterfront Awards Program 2012 and is often featured internationally as an example of a successful river restoration project.

Other projects such as the Pang Sua Canal reflect the PUB's interest in restoring natural processes to concrete waterways at a smaller scale and effort. Boulders were placed in the canal. In-stream vegetation slows down fast stormwater flow, providing habitats for aquatic and bird life in the area, and aesthetic recreational areas for Bukit Panjang residents.

Admirable though these river restoration efforts are, research in the United States and Europe shows that such projects do not always lead to pre-restoration conditions. Some projects fail completely. This is in part due to imperfect knowledge of how river processes and ecosystems operate.

Common sense says that it is better to avoid river degradation in the first place.

This holds true, especially, if one considers the Lentor and Tagore freshwater streams in Teacher's Estate, Yio Chu Kang, that are slated for destruction when 30ha of mature secondary forest through which they flow is cleared for housing development.

Tagore Stream will be straightened and turned into a canal, while Lentor Stream will be completely filled up. A newly engineered stream will perform Lentor's hydrological role when the development is complete.

Pictures of these freshwater streams in June and July reveal continuous flow, a small floodplain and healthy riparian vegetation, which supports a diverse ecosystem in the small area it occupies.

To develop these streams into concrete drains would be to remove key ecosystem functions, such as water flow regulation during flood and drought periods, natural habitats and biodiversity, for homes and highly managed blue-green spaces.

Part of the forest has already been cleared as you are reading this article, as reported in The Straits Times yesterday. A wildlife shepherding plan initiated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority hopes to relocate rare wildlife such as the Sunda pangolin, flying lemur and globally threatened straw-headed bulbul to nearby green areas such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

To minimise damage to wildlife, vegetation will be cut systematically to force them to move to nearby green areas.

The damage of this systematic clearing is already seen in the freshwater streams. Lentor Stream is more murky than before clearing activities started.


It is understandable that Singapore needs land for development, but destroying natural freshwater streams to later restore them at a great cost is counter-intuitive to a society aiming for a sustainable and resilient urban environment.

The question that must be asked is whether nature and the city can truly coexist in land-scarce Singapore. Do we value nature enough to sacrifice some development opportunities? What type of natural spaces do we want in Singapore?

One answer is to start thinking creatively, so that Singapore's natural areas can become multi-functional spaces to avoid having them totally destroyed for development. Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa are examples of natural areas that have escaped development - for now.

Creative approaches to developing the forest around Teachers Estate include partial development, preserving the natural streams with a buffer zone and providing trails for people to enter the area.

This development scenario maintains some of the key ecosystem services these rivers provide, plus aesthetics and recreational opportunities for Singaporeans and visitors.

Alternatively, leave the area as it is but develop it minimally for eco-tourism by building tracks or boardwalk trails into the forest.

Cost-benefit analysis of current planned development versus alternative development scenarios, taking into account the ecosystem services of these rivers, can help decide how best to use this space and other natural areas for Singapore's long-term benefit.

While Lentor and Tagore streams still exist, they provide the opportunity to start thinking deeper and creatively about how Singapore will develop in the future, especially if it wants to become a truly resilient and sustainable city - not only in the tropics but also globally.

The writer is a lecturer in hydrology at James Cook University, Australia.

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Cambodia: Singapore Silent Amid Sand Smuggling Claims

BEN PAVIOUR The Cambodia Daily 10 Dec 16;

Singapore is regularly lauded as a squeaky-clean island in a region awash with corruption.

The city-state ranked eighth in the world in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perception index, in comparison to 150th-ranked Cambodia.

But their reputations have not stopped the Cambodian government from suggesting that Singapore turned a blind eye to sand smugglers—charges that the Singaporean government has yet to answer since they were leveled last month.

“They need to respond to the accusations by Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy that Singapore has been, for years, importing massive amounts of illegally sourced sand and falsely reporting them as having come from Cambodia,” said Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the director of environmental group Mother Nature.

The Singaporean Embassy in Phnom Penh has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA), which regulates Singapore’s sand imports, promised a response, but has not provided one since she was first contacted over three weeks ago.

Singapore recorded importing more than 73.6 million tons of sand from Cambodia between 2007 and last year, compared to less than 2.8 million tons Cambodia said it sent there, according to figures both countries sent to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database (Comtrade).

The discrepancy is notable given the many adverse effects attributed to sand dredging, which has been blamed for ravaging river and coastal ecosystems and destroying the livelihoods of fishermen. Prices for sand have skyrocketed due to bursting global demand for reclamation and construction projects, fueling the rise of Indian sand mafias involved in the smuggling of the commodity as well as the disappearance of 24 small islands in Indonesia, according to a 2014 report from the U.N. Environment Program.

The Cambodian government has offered a number of theories to explain the discrepancy: the unreliability of global trade data, different record keeping techniques and undefined “inefficient practices.”

In an interview last month, Ministry of Mines and Energy spokes­man Meng Saktheara offered another explanation: the difference in records might be caused by “smuggling from other countries that could include Cambodia to Singapore,” he told Radio France Internationale.

Smugglers could be flying under the Cambodian flag to get around sand export bans in Vietnam, Malay­sia and Indonesia, Mr. Saktheara said, by extension suggesting that Singapore had been accepting tens of millions of tons of illicit sand.

In a 2010 statement, Singapore’s Ministry of National Development defended its import practices, saying that “our customs have in place procedures to check and investigate the import of goods at the checkpoints” and that “sand supplies must have the necessary import permits.”

The country has used sand to extend the island’s territory by 20 percent, or 130 square km, over the past 40 years, according to the U.N. report. The government plans to add another 56 square km by 2030, according to The Straits Times newspaper.

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Causes Week 2016: They walk the talk to nurture a green future

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Dec 16;

"In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." That line was written by a Senegalese poet in the 1960s, but it is a philosophy nature conservation volunteers share - that to get people to appreciate their environment, they first have to be taught to fall in love with it.

Volunteers from various environmental groups have been conducting free guided walks to nature areas here to raise awareness about the last few wild spaces in built-up Singapore, and the need to protect them.

The guides are from groups such as Naked Hermit Crabs and Herpetological Society of Singapore. They take interested members of the public out to various habitats in and around Singapore - from the Pasir Ris Mangroves to the forested trails of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and even the wetlands of offshore Pulau Ubin.

They do so in the hope of making Singaporeans aware of the rich biodiversity in their own backyard.

"Bringing people to appreciate the forest first-hand will give them a better idea of what is at stake," said Mr Tan Hang Chong, 43, who is head of education and research at Better Trails, an environmental and outdoor education company.

Free guided walks

Herpetological Society of Singapore

This nature group wants to raise awareness of reptiles and amphibians - that may not immediately appeal to everyone.

Volunteers have started Herp Walks to places such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and MacRitchie to educate people that reptiles and amphibians are important to the ecosystem and are not scary.

For more information on the guided walks, visit

Naked Hermit Crabs

Despite the level of sediment, life thrives in Singapore's waters. Learn more about the creatures that live underwater with volunteers from the Naked Hermit Crabs, who organise walks at places such as the Pasir Ris Mangroves and the Chek Jawa wetlands on Pulau Ubin. Details can be found at

Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore)

There are two species of monkeys found in Singapore, although you are more likely to encounter the cheeky long-tailed macaque. The other species, the Raffles' banded langur, is reclusive and tends to stay out of the way of humans.

Learn more about these primates with the experts at the Jane Goodall Institute on their Monkey Walks held twice monthly at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Visit for more information.

BES Drongos

The students from the National University of Singapore's Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) programme are spreading their love for nature by conducting guided walks on the Petai Trail at MacRitchie Reservoir Park. To sign up, visit

"It also gives us the opportunity to share how every small action, such as going off trail, could have an impact on the environment."

When people go off trail, they trample on sensitive vegetation and disturb wildlife.

On Nov 19, a group of volunteers put together a concert at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, a gateway to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, to raise awareness of the potential impact of the 5km Cross Island Line, which could cut through primary and secondary forests in the reserve.

Ms Rani Singam, a jazz singer who helped organise The Future of MacRitchie Concert, said: "I thought we should do something to bring people together to discuss the issue in a positive way, not just through protesting or rebelling. And music is a way to do that."

Local musicians such as singer-songwriter Farisha Ishak and musical duo Jack and Rai performed at the concert, which was attended by about 100 people.

The other concert organisers included actress Debra Teng, who is in her 40s; risk analyst Jaclyn Yeo, 31; sustainability manager Chen Dexiang, 31; and publisher Kannan Chandran, 57.

Ms Singam said she never identified herself as an environmentalist.

But after reading about the potential for the line to cause harm to native biodiversity, raised by groups such as the Nature Society (Singapore), Ms Singam found herself drawn to the issue.

The 45-year-old said she decided to act as she believes that a protected nature reserve "should not be violated".

The organisers of the concert also roped in volunteers, including Mr Tan and his colleague Ding Kian Seng, 33, who each took a group of 15 on a guided walk on the trails of MacRitchie.

They pointed out the forest denizens, including the greater racket-tailed drongo, a bird with flowing tail feathers that resemble stilts.

The organisers said that they worked for about eight months, securing permits and lining up programmes, in order to pull off the Nov 19 event.

Said Ms Teng: "This nature reserve, and all the green spaces in Singapore, belong to us Singaporeans, and I think it is important that Singaporeans have a say as to how and what we want to protect.

"This is just an opportunity to spread the message and let people know that... hey, we own it."

For more information, go to

In our annual Causes Week, back for its fifth year, we spotlight individuals and groups that are making a difference in the community, and look at how others might pitch in too.

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Plan to save wildlife at site marked for housing

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Dec 16;

The URA is clearing the 30ha plot in Lentor in stages. The aim is to guide wildlife towards neighbouring forested areas for relocation, and ensure none remains before the land is cleared, says Mr Tang from the URA's development coordination department.

But the authorities say plan may not be applicable to all future developments

To save rare animals in a forested area in Lentor, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has for the first time embarked on a novel wildlife management plan.

The 30ha plot designated for private housing is being gradually cleared so that animals are herded to nearby green areas, such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

"The goal of the plan is to guide wildlife towards the neighbouring forested areas for relocation, and ensure that none remains before the land is cleared," said Mr Alvin Tang, senior civil engineer from the URA's development coordination department.

He told The Straits Times that the plan has been progressing well. Several animals, including the critically endangered Sunda pangolin and the flying lemur, have already been relocated or shepherded to nearby green plots.

The URA is carrying out the wildlife management plan following the results of a 2014 wildlife survey.

It also agreed to keep two green plots after feedback from the Nature Society (Singapore), or NSS, and residents of Teacher's Estate, who had been shocked when they found out about the land clearance through URA fliers last December.

The first phase of the works, which include the wildlife management plan and vegetation clearance for 10ha, was completed in October and took about 1.5 months.

The second phase is ongoing and expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year.

Wildlife expert Subaraj Rajathurai from Strix Wildlife Consultancy, who conducted the 2014 survey, and contractors from Wildlife Studies and Control are carrying out the project.

As a gauge, vegetation clearance on a similar 10ha site can usually be done in a week, as trees are cut from all directions, said Mr Tang. But in this case, as clearance is done sequentially and only from one direction, more time is needed.

The URA declined to reveal costs.

The animal-friendly plan was made as several species of wildlife have been spotted in the vegetated area bounded by Lentor Drive, Yio Chu Kang Road, Munshi Abdullah Avenue and Tagore Road.

NSS has said animals spotted there include the Sunda slow loris, a shy monkey known as Raffles' banded langur, and the straw-headed bulbul, a globally threatened bird.

Shepherding animals to safety is less invasive compared with physically relocating an animal, for example, which could stress it out and cause injury. Clearing the land at one go would also mean that slower-moving animals, or animals that choose to hide instead of flee, could be inadvertently killed.

But the URA cautioned that it may not be practical for the Government to carry out a wildlife management plan for all future projects.

For instance, such a plan would not typically be required for sites that are sparsely vegetated and barren, or found with minimal wildlife presence, Mr Tang said.

Earlier this year, NSS wrote a 10-page position paper calling for the land to be developed in phases so that some parts of the forest, including two rare freshwater streams, could be retained.

The authorities agreed that two green areas there will be temporarily kept for at least five years, after talks between the URA, residents and NSS.

Mr Leong Kwok Peng, chair of NSS' conservation committee, said the shepherding of wildlife was a last resort. "I hope that it will not be a default solution and excuse to clear forests in the future.

"The Lentor stream can potentially be an attractive natural landscape to the development if it is incorporated in the overall planning."

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Phase 1 of Tuas Terminal on track for Dec 2020 completion

Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 9 Dec 16;

SINGAPORE: Over half a year since work officially began, the first phase of Singapore’s mega-port terminal in Tuas is 20 per cent completed - and this phase will be finished on schedule by December 2020, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said in an update on Friday (Dec 9).

The project is managed by DIAP-Daelim Joint Venture under a S$2.42 billion agreement.

A key feature of the new port are caissons, which line the docks where ships will call at. According to MPA, the structures are suited for the Tuas facility due to its shallow sea bed.

Each caisson is about 28 metres tall, equivalent to the height of a 10-storey Housing and Development Board (HDB) block, making it one of the largest such structures in the world.

Since construction on Phase 1 started in April, 30 out of a total of 222 caissons have been built.

With each one weighing 15,000 tonnes, engineers have had to ensure foundations are strong enough to support the massive structures, according to Gert De Smet, project director at DIAP-Daelim Joint Venture.

"The main challenge we are facing is that we are working towards very stringent and strict tolerances, and these, in water depths of up to 27 metres," he said.

The prefabricated caissons are made on site in a two-lane assembly line and it takes 24 days for a caisson to be completed.


While on track for end-2020, MPA said it is still too early to tell if the project can be completed ahead of schedule.

Su Ziheng, civil engineer at MPA’s New Port Development Department said authorities are keeping a close watch on possible hiccups, which could include a sudden slowdown in supply of excavated materials from the construction industry. The material is recycled in the Phase 1 of Tuas Terminal project as fill materials for reclamation.

Mr Su said: "Currently, the risk is kept low as we are working closely with our counterparts and are constantly kept aware of the supply volume.

“However, in the event of a slowdown of the supply, we are still able to mitigate the risk by using more dredged materials in place of excavated materials."

Dredging materials are collected with the help of the state-of-the-art dredging machine called Gosho.

While typical grab dredgers swallow van-sized mouthfuls of dirt, Gosho is capable of scooping up the equivalent of a whole double-decker bus with ease, according to engineers.

The use of such a machine helps reduce the number of grab dredgers needed for the project, and helps speed up the construction process.

When completed, the facility will be able to handle about 20 million standard-sized container units yearly and will have a total capacity of 65 million units.

- CNA/am

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Read rare, old publications on biodiversity for free

Singapore institutions join global online initiative by Smithsonian to give public access to titles
Audrey Tan Straits Times 9 Dec 16;

In 1854, tigers roamed Singapore and, on average, a person was killed every day. This was the account of famed British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who detailed his observations in The Malay Archipelago, The Land Of The Orangutan And The Bird Of Paradise.

Until recently, the public had limited access to the 1874 book and other manuscripts that tell the stories of old Singapore. Many of them are among the rare collection of the National Library Board's (NLB's) Lee Kong Chian Reference Library and not available for loan.

But Wallace's book and more than 100 other manuscripts from Singapore are now just a click away.

They have been scanned and are published at It is part of an international initiative known as the Biodiversity Heritage Library driven by the Smithsonian Institution.

Natural history and botanical libraries from around the world upload digitised copies of biodiversity-related literature in their collections on the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

It can be accessed for free.

In the middle of this year, the Singapore Botanic Gardens started contributing titles to this library and has shared 22 volumes to date.

It was done to share the Gardens' knowledge and resources with a wider audience, said Dr Nigel Taylor, the Gardens' group director.

Among the titles it contributed are volumes of one of the oldest scientific journals in South-east Asia, the Agricultural Bulletin Of The Straits Settlements - now known as the Gardens Bulletin. It was first published in 1891.

In 2014, NLB became the first South-east Asian partner to join the Smithsonian initiative, which now has 16 members, including Harvard University in the US, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London.

"The partnership with the Biodiversity Heritage Library strengthens the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library's position as Singapore's key research and resource centre for materials on Singapore and South-east Asia," said the National Library's director, Mrs Wai Yin Pryke.

"We also hope to showcase the library's rich collections and spark interest and research on these key collections on Singapore and the region."

Dr Nancy Gwinn, director of Smithsonian Libraries and chairman of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, said: "Singapore's important role in the Asean community in both the areas of library science and biology will be important as we seek partners in those countries."

Environmental studies undergraduate Shaina Tan, 19, said it helps to have access to the books, adding: "The books could be useful to study historic biodiversity and might come in handy for future research, perhaps for our final-year projects."

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NTU's cyborg beetles: Netizens upset over 'animal torture'

Netizens are showing disapproval over NTU’s project involving remote-controlled ‘cyber-beetles’, with some calling it animal torture.
Hariz Baharudin The New Paper 8 Dec 16;

A project involving remote-controlled "cyborg beetles" by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the University of California, Berkeley has drawn flak, with some netizens crying foul over the perceived insect abuse.

The joint project, first published in March last year, involves attaching a microchip to and inserting electrodes into a giant flower beetle's body to connect with its optic lobes and flight muscles - allowing people to control its movements via wireless signals.

Led by Assistant Professor Hirotaka Sato from the NTU School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the project was recently featured by US online magazine Motherboard.

A video of the story, which was uploaded onto Motherboard's Facebook page on Dec 1, has gone viral, with over 22,000 shares and more than 2,800 comments as of yesterday.

In the video, Dr Sato says the project's purpose is to "control the flight of the beetle", which will be used for "peaceful applications" like finding trapped people using heat signatures.
 Each muscle of the beetle is stimulated "like a robot". Dr Sato said: "It struggles, but it still obeys the signals."

Netizens expressed their disapproval on Facebook. User Alexandra Manda called the project "animal torture". Netizen Calvin Yap said: "If someone were to control a wasp or venomous invertebrates, he can commit a perfect murder."

But not all netizens were against the cyborg beetles.

Mr Marc Samuel Tan commented: "If it furthers research and helps develop future technologies that can potentially improve the way things are done, then I don't see why not."

A spokesman for the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, which regulates the import of insects, said it had approved the import of the beetles.

He added that the animal welfare provisions of the Animals and Birds Act do not cover invertebrates such as beetles.

Would we one day allow the use of the same technology to control higher animals and people?
Dr Anuj Jain, butterfly & insect group volunteer with Nature Society

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) and Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) have also weighed in on the cyborg beetles.

Said deputy chief executive of Acres Anbarasi Boopal: "With the advances in technology, use of live animals for such purposes should be replaced by use of technology to avoid suffering."

Dr Anuj Jain, butterfly & insect group volunteer and past chairman of the NSS, highlighted possible ethical issues.

Said Dr Jain: "Would we one day allow the use of the same technology to control higher animals and people?"

Though Singapore's ethics for animal experimentation guidelines do not apply to invertebrates, Dr Sato said the research was carried out with "utmost care for the beetles to ensure it does not cause any harm".

The beetles, he said, continued to live out their regular lifespan of three to six months.

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Malaysia: Over 1,000 Kuala Terengganu residents traumatised by floods


KUALA TERENGGANU: Some 1,100 residents in three housing estates here are having sleepless nights as a result of worries of floods caused by the downpour and monsoon season.

Over the past 10 days, 300 residents of Taman Dalya, 500 in phase 1 and 2 of Taman Alamanda and 300 in Taman Sri Intan faced two flash floods measuring up to 0.5m in their homes.

It had been some eight years ago since they last experienced floods.

“We are left dumbfounded that floods still happen after a huge monsoon drain was built. And there weren’t any floods in the past eight years before it was built,” said retired government employee Norzaidi Mohamed, 56, a resident of Taman Dalya.

“I believe that in the past years, we have also seen an extraordinary amount of rainfall but no flash floods.

“There must be some other reasons for the recent ones,” she said.

The floods had damaged 10 cars, home electrical appliances and furniture.

Another pensioner, Shahrom Dayal, 65, was also having sleepless nights after the two flash floods.

“My disabled wife and I were fast asleep during the latest flood on Thursday when water rose quickly and entered the house at about 3am.

“We were quite lucky that a neighbour woke us up and I made sure my wife was safe before moving my car to a safer spot,” he said.

He hoped the state government would look into the matter and direct agencies such as the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (JPS) and Kuala Terengganu City Council (MBKT) to clear the drainage system and ensure water flows properly.

Jalan Sultan Omar Rukun Tetangga chairman Badrol Hisham Zaki said the floods had left many of the residents traumatised and many were afraid to leave their homes.

“I call on the respective agencies to take short-term and long-term proactive measures to stop the problem from recurring.

“We have formed a special team, comprising young residents of Jalan Tekukur, to help raise the alarm and help victims move their belongings in case of another flood,” he added.

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Malaysia, Sarawak: Report sightings of crocs, don't take matters into your own hands

ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 9 Dec 16;

KUCHING: People in Sarawak have been advised to stop taking matters into their hands, especially in the case of crocodile invading their villages or housing estates. They should instead report these sightings to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC).

SFC has assured the people that they will respond immediately to these reports.

The corporation, in a statement today, expressed its concern on the shooting of two crocodiles by villagers in Miri on Sunday.

“The villagers had taken matters into their own hands, citing protection of their poultry as justification.

“Since crocodiles are listed as protected species under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998, we strongly urged the public to report sightings of rogue and nuisance crocodiles to the (Sarawak) Forest Department or SFC office,” the statement read.

SFC also said in the statement that its Swift Wildlife Action Team (SWAT) had caught a 4.4 metre-long crocodile from the waters of Sungai Kelulut at Bekenu near Miri yesterday.

The SWAT team was despatched to the area following reports of crocodile sightings by villagers in Kampung Pejuang.

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Indonesia: NGOs Call Out 26 Palm Oil Companies for Illegal Operations in Riau

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 10 Dec 16;

Jakarta. A number of palm oil plantations in Riau province have allegedly received under the table permits, according to a report by a coalition of environmental NGOs dubbed the Eyes of the Earth, or EoF.

Earlier in 2014, the Forestry Ministry had converted 1.6 million hectares of forest areas into non-forest areas under a ministerial decree, but 26 companies have been found to be operating under the wrong type of license within the converted area as they are missing cultivation permits (HGU) and forest-estate release permits.

“We urge the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK] to investigate the land swap scandals of a forest area covering more than 1.6 million hectares,” Woro Supartinah, coordinator for Jikalahari NGO which is a member of EoF, said in a statement on Thursday (08/12).

According to EoF’s report, the majority of palm oil plantations within the converted area are operating sans proper permits and licenses and are not included in the Forest-Estate Release Progress Data 201, based on the book of forestry spatial data 2015.

WALHI, or Friends of the Earth Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe that palm oil estates which operate without proper licenses or permits are corrupt and a form of tax evasion.

“These plantations are not paying taxes, and do not have a tax identification number [NPWP]. We could lose up about Rp 170 trillion [$12.7 billion] in state losses,” Riko Kurniawan, WALHI executive director said on Friday.

The coalition has urged the ministry of environment and forestry to revoke the ministerial decree and investigate palm oil companies that own plantations in the converted area.

Meanwhile, some of the plantations were also found to be linked with big industry players known to have pledged for sustainable palm oil, leaving EoF to question their sustainability pact.

“Global palm oil companies have committed towards a sustainable supply chain from trustworthy sources, but looking at this report, there needs to be a clarification from them so consumers do not feel cheated,” said Nursamsu, EoF coordinator from WWF Indoensia.

EoF noted that with these claims, the 26 companies could be threatened with a prison sentence of minimum 5 years and maximum 15, and a fine of at least Rp 5 billion and maximum Rp 15 billion, for violating the law on Elimination and Prevention of Destruction of Forests.

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Indonesia: Protection sought for Leuser ecosystem, Sumatran orangutans

Hasyim Widhiarto The Jakarta Post 9 Dec 16;

Coordinated efforts by stakeholders to protect Indonesia’s Leuser ecosystem are becoming more crucial to help save the heritage site and its endangered species, a United States-based environmental organization has suggested.

Referring to the newly updated International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species, the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network (RAN) said Friday that conservation of the Leuser ecosystem would help the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), a critically endangered animal according to the list, to survive.

“The IUCN’s message is clear: Indonesia’s Leuser ecosystem must be protected, otherwise the Sumatran orangutans will become extinct,” RAN’s Leuser ecosystem campaigner Chelsea Matthews said in a press release.

The Leuser ecosystem is a UNESCO world heritage site that covers thousands of hectares of protected forest in Aceh and North Sumatra.

In its report, the IUCN said that the illegal spatial land-use plan being implemented by the Aceh provincial administration ignored the Leuser ecosystem’s status as a National Strategic Area, designated for its environmental function.

“Moreover, modelling based on different land-use scenarios and their likely impacts predicts that an additional 4,500 Sumatran orangutans could be lost by 2030 as a direct consequence of this spatial plan and related developments,” it said.

WWF Indonesia Urges Govt to Support Biodiversity Conservation Efforts
Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 9 Dec 16;

Jakarta. With world leaders gathering in Cancun, Mexico, to discuss global biodiversity conservation,World Wildlife Fund Indonesia has urged the Indonesian government to buck up on handling the dramatic biodiversity loss taking place across the archipelago.

Initiated by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) gathers 196 world leaders for the 13th Conference of Parties on Dec. 4 to 17 to discuss achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which includes improving wildlife conditions such as water, forests and oceans.

Indonesia’s national strategy in biodiversity conservation was implemented through the Indonesian Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (IBSAP) 2003-2020, which has been revised to IBSAP 2015-2020.

However, according to WWF Indonesia, this plan sounds a lot more "talk" than action.

“The government has not fully integrated biodiversity conservation strategies in any national development planning strategies across sectors, which is necessary as biodiversity requires more than just conservation areas,” said Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, in a written statement on Wednesday (07/12).

Additionally after recently publishing the Living Planet report, WWF Indonesia noted there is still a lack of following for conservation in the national economic planning.

“The government must come up with breakthrough ideas in efforts for conservation in Indonesia, by seriously implementing the Action Plan through establishing institutions, policies, and allocating an optimal budget,” he added.

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Indonesia: Elephants suffering from malnutrition sent to sanctuary

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 10 Dec 16;

After spending over 10 years at the Aras Napal elephant-training center, three elephants suffering from malnutrition were sent to the Barumun Nagari wildlife sanctuary in North Padang Lawas regency, North Sumatra, on Friday in an effort to save their lives.

The transfer of Dion, Aini and Tanti — as the elephants are called — by North Sumatra Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) took 23 hours.

The transfer of the one male and two female elephants ran smoothly, Dede Tanjung of the North Sumatra BKSDA responsible for the transfer said. “While in the sanctuary we will improve their nutrition. We will give them additional food, such as pineapples, watermelons and sugarcane,” Dede said.

The agency’s planning, protection and conservation section head Rahmad Saleh Simbolon said the transfer was conducted to save the elephants from starvation.

Earlier this year, an elephant died of malnutrition. He said his office was still investigating the cause of the malnutrition.

The three elephants transferred to the wildlife sanctuary were the last left at the training center, located on the buffer zone of Mount Leuser National Park in Langkat regency.

There were initially five elephants at the center. One died in 2014 after a fight with a wild elephant and another died this year due to malnutrition.

“We will evaluate the center to consider whether or not it is worth maintaining,” said Rahmad on the 17-year-old center.

BKSDA planned to place all the Sumatran elephants under surveillance of the agency in the sanctuary, which currently accommodates eight of them, soon to be 11. The sanctuary is suitable for elephants because it has a grass plantation to supply their food, he added.

The 40-hectare sanctuary, officially launched last month by the Environment and Forestry Ministry, is connected to the Barumun Wildlife Park. The sanctuary is also meant for rare animals in need of serious care, like a Sumatran tiger recently treated after undergoing amputation of its severely wounded leg that had been caught in a trap.

He said due to the decreasing population of Sumatran elephants, the colonies of the protected animals could only be found in Leuser National Park with 28-45 elephants and in South Padang Lawas with two herds of about six to eight elephants each.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified Sumatran elephants as being in critical status.

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Philippines: Healthy ecosystems means resiliency, faster recovery against climate change

Jonathan L. Mayuga Business Mirror 11 Dec 16;

Scientists say there is a direct link and evidence that biodiversity boosts the resiliency of ecosystems against the impacts of climate change—a reason the protection and conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity can never be overemphasized.

Experts believe that the country’s strength or resiliency against intense typhoons and extreme weather events, like prolonged wet or dry season, is anchored on natural defense—the diversity of habitat-forming species both in land and in water—which are seriously threatened by destructive activities. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is at the forefront of defending the country’s rich biodiversity against various threats brought about by human pressures.

The unbridled development—pushed by rapid urbanization and expansion, human encroachment of forest and coastal habitats for agriculture, fisheries, residential and commercial purposes, tourism and other development projects, such as mining, quarrying, logging and land reclamation—weakens the country’s natural defense against natural calamities.

While the Philippines remain as one of the 18 most megadiverse countries in the world, it is also a biodiversity hot spot because of the rapid loss of biodiversity.

Illegal wildlife trade, hunting for food and trophy, also contributes to the extinction of species.

Serious threat

In the Philippines the more serious threat to biodiversity is the effects of climate change, which are strongly felt in coastal and marine environment.

Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) underscored the need to protect and conserve the country’s rich biodiversity to strengthen the country’s resiliency against natural calamities and effects of climate change that may hasten the extinction of vulnerable species.

Lim, who is currently in Cancun, Mexico, for the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, said there is a direct link between climate change and biodiversity loss.

With the theme, “Mainstreaming Biodiversity for Well-being,”COP13 focuses on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and their contribution to sustainable development.

Altering animal behavior

Climate-change has strange effects on animal behavior. Various studies suggest that sudden change in temperature alter migration patterns of marine mammals and waterfowls, affecting feeding habits, breeding and reproduction eventually leading to imbalance, or worse, species extinction.

Sightings of animals outside their natural habitats is a sign of change in animal behavior.

Lim cited the behavior of marine mammals—like whales, dolphins and sharks—marine turtles and even migratory birds during the peak of El Niño in 1997 can be attributed to the extremely hot weather. Climate change’s effect on animal behavior, in particular, and life cycles, she said, offer scientists an opportunity to study the effects of climate change in the Philippines and contribute to the global effort to mitigate its adverse impact to biodiversity.

Sea-level rise

Vincent Hilomen, executive director of the DENR-BMB’s Coastal and Marine Division, said climate change affects coastal and marine ecosystems in varying degrees.

Sea-level rise, coral bleaching, ocean-temperature rise and ocean acidification are taking place globally.

Marine scientists have observed these climate-change effects to the country’s coastal and marine environment for decades, Hilomen said.

Sea-grass beds and mangroves are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. The deeper the ocean become, the harder it is for sunlight to reach sea-grass beds, preventing photosynthesis.

In such case, sea grass and other plants, such as seaweed, which are food to a wide variety of fish and other marine animals, will eventually die, Hilomen said.

Certain species of mangroves, he added, can only survive on brackish water. Such species will be the first to go in case of sea-level rise.

“If their particular species can tolerate low level of salinity, then they will die in case of sea-level rise,” he explained.

Threats to corals

Supertyphoons that trigger storm surges, meanwhile, cause massive destruction of coral reefs. This, he said, have devastating impact on a wide variety of fish species.

El Niño, or extreme heat, also triggers bleaching that may lead to the death of corals, forcing fishes to migrate and find healthy ecosystems, where they can feed and breed.

“In 1997 and 1998 the Philippines experienced intense El Niño. This caused massive bleaching of corals. Nearly 90 percent of our corals died. In fact, the coral in Bolinao, [Pangasinan], has not yet recovered until now,” he said.

Corals are breeding and feeding ground of spawning fish.

They provide protection to small fish against predators, thus, allowing them to grow and replenish the ocean with fish for people to catch and feed human population.

Ocean acidification

Ocean acidification caused by excessive emission of carbon is the most feared effect of climate change to coastal and marine environment. While the ocean is a big carbon sink, its carbon-absorption capacity would soon reach breaking point because of excessive carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

“Ocean acidification weakens all species—from corals, fish, seaweed and sea grass. This will definitely affect food security,” Hilomen said.

He said the Philippines is on the right track in joining other countries to cut carbon emission under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Limiting the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030 means deep cuts on carbon emission.

The Philippines, although not a big emitter of greenhouse gas, committed to reduce by 70 percent its carbon emission by 2030, subject to assistance it gets from developed countries.

Scientists have warned that global-temperature increase of 2˚C would spell not only the extinction of animal and plant species, but the human population, as well. “It is only right to demand accountability from big polluters. But we should also do our part in reducing our own carbon footprint,” he said.

Resiliency, faster recovery

Having healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity make the ecosystems, whether in land or water, resilient to climate change.

Dr. AA Yaptinchay, director of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, said there are various studies that suggest the direct link between biodiversity and climate change.

“Climate change affects everything. Change in temperature, sea level, even the chemistry of the water will impact any living thing in the ocean,” he said. Water-temperature increase, he said, will change water current. “Certain organisms have specific habitat preferences. There are species that prefer to stay in coral reefs. Change in temperature, say increase in temperature, will drive them away or they will die because they will not survive unless they move to higher latitude,” he said.

Migratory species, he added, will be affected once the food source becomes scarce or vanishes.

“Our problem in the tropics is that fish will not go here because they would go in higher latitude,” he said. Yaptinchay underscored the need to maintain a healthy ecosystem, whether in land or water, to strengthen the resiliency and allow faster recovery in the event of climate-change effects.

The richer the biodiversity, he said, the higher the probability of species surviving, allowing the food chain to have minimum disruption. “Think of it this way. If you have only three species and lost one, it will be harder for the two other species to survive. Whereas, if you have a thousand species, and you lose one specie, you still have hundreds of species left, allowing a higher chance of survival for other species,” he said.

The diversity of species, he said, also allows faster recovery in case of damage to ecosystem, citing the case of coral bleaching, which will allow faster recovery if coral-reef fish continue to dwell on other parts of the reef. “The fish will eat the algae on this coral. Without fish, the algae will grow on the coral. It will later die. Once algae starts engulfing the coral, new coral will not grow,” he explained.

“The diversity of ecosystems allows interaction that makes it healthy and strong. The Philippines is one of the most diverse when it comes to marine biodiversity. What we need is to prevent the threats, protect our biodiversity to maintain the services the ecosystem will provide, to combat climate change,” he said.

Protecting the marine environment

According to Lim, the DENR-BMB’s strategy to mitigate the impact of climate change is to strengthen the protection of existing marine protected areas.

That way, she said, habitat-forming species from mangroves to sea grass and corals will be protected against destructive human activities, ensuring the survival of fish and other marine life that thrive within.

The DENR, however, is taking a different tack in rehabilitating damaged marine ecosystems, which Hilomen said would cost around P500,000 to P5 million per hectare.

“We don’t have the resources for massive rehabilitation. What we are going to do is to reduce the threat and protect our marine environment against destructive activities to allow natural rehabilitation,” he said.

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Myanmar: Mangroves -- the Forests of the Tide

BETH WALKER The Wire 10 Dec 16;

A new art exhibition in Yangon shows the strange beauty of mangrove forests and the important role they play in the wider ecosystem.

In 2008 Cyclone Nargis swept in over the Bay of Bengal and across the Irrawaddy delta, killing 130,000 people and displacing many more. Nothing broke the power of the cyclone as it hit the coast; the destruction of mangroves had left Myanmar’s coastline exposed to the devastating force of the tropical storm.

Mangroves are a delta’s natural defence against nature’s fury, absorbing the onslaught of cyclones, winds, floods and tidal surges. The dense tangle of roots trap silt and stabilise the coast, preventing erosion. The trees also absorb five times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than rainforests, which means they play a huge role in mitigating global climate change.

A new art exhibition in Yangon shows the strange beauty of these complex ecosystems and the important functions the mangrove forests play in the wider ecosystem.

Expansion of agriculture, shrimp farming, coastal development and rising sea levels have all contributed to mangrove deforestation worldwide.

“Only 16% of mangroves in Myanmar’s delta remain,” says British painter Kate Bowen. It was time spent in the Ma Gyi mangrove conservation park that inspired her to paint the huge canvasses on display in Gallery 65.

2.5 million trees have been replanted in the Ma Gyi park with the support of Worldview International Foundation in an area where the mangroves covering 1,800 acres had been destroyed. The good news is the trees regenerate quickly, recolonising a denuded island in ten to fifteen years.

Myanmar artist Htein Lin’s installation “Mangrave” is a charcoal sculpture of a tree. The production of charcoal is one of the primary causes of mangrove decline.

“Bogale charcoal made from mangroves is famous for its quality. Production of this charcoal in the delta was encouraged in the Ne Win era to fuel kitchens in Yangon. It led to widespread mangrove deforestation,” he told local media.

Since Myanmar’s opening up in 2011 new threats have emerged in the form of industrial agricultural and large scale plantations.

Norwegian artist Gunnlaug Bina Kuloy’s macro videos and sound installations capture the teaming life of small creatures hidden in the tidal forests and their role in the bigger ecosystem. Crabs that dig holes in the mud, for example, provide oxygen to mangrove roots keeping the forests alive.

Experts warn that if current trends continue Myanmar’s mangroves could disappear completely in the next few decades.

Mangroves across South Asia face a similar fate. The Sundarbans that straddle Bangladesh and India are now threatened by logging and shrimp farming, coal factories, shipping, rising sea levels and dwindling fresh water from the Ganga River.

The densely populated deltas around the Bay of Bengal are sinking because of a set of problems including, the loss of mangroves, the reduction of river flow and silt held behind dams upstream. At the same time sea levels are rising – as well as rising in temperature.

“Locals [in the Irrawaddy delta] are really concerned about the rise in sea temperature, which is much warmer than last year,” says Kuloy, which will affect fish and marine life. “People aren’t aware of the basic functions of mangroves – protection from cyclones, coastal erosion and the health of the ocean. I hope to raise their curiosity.”

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Australia: Great Barrier Reef not likely to survive if warming trend continues, says report

Report projects by 2050 more than 98% of coral reefs will be afflicted by ‘bleaching-level thermal stress’ each year
Adam Collins The Guardian 9 Dec 16;

The Great Barrier Reef will not survive coral bleaching if current sea temperature trends continue, according to a new report charting increases over the past three decades which blames manmade climate change for the problem.

The study found thermal stress to coral reef areas was three times more likely when its investigation finished in 2012 compared with when it began in 1985, forecasting “more frequent and more severe” bleaching through the middle of this century.

Led by researchers at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and published in Scientific Reports journal, the report projects that by 2050 more than 98% of coral reefs around the world will be afflicted by “bleaching-level thermal stress” each year.

“The likelihood of the reef being able to survive through that is extremely low,” the report’s co-author, Scott Heron of the NOAA, told Guardian Australia. “If annual severe bleaching was happening across 98% of global reefs, it is very unlikely the Great Barrier Reef would be maintained.”

The report found 97% of 60,000 coral reef locations risked bleaching across the timeframe studied, with “drastic increases” expected to follow. “Coral bleaching events have become and will continue to become more frequent and severe,” it reads.

Heron said that for any part of the Great Barrier Reef to remain it would need to “get lucky”, but the chances of a positive outcome were remote. “If a piano is going to fall on you, it is going to fall on you irrespective of how healthy you are,” he said.

Since the conclusion of the investigation, the planet has experienced the longest bleaching event on record.

“Scientifically the facts are clear, that the level of warming we are seeing is a direct result of human activities globally,” Heron said, speaking to the report finding that the “main driver” of stress to coral reefs were high sea temperatures. “The increase in prolonged high temperature events on coral reefs is a stark example of the effects of climate change.”

The researchers observed that “summer-like” water temperatures had increased decade to decade with a “corresponding shortening” of the respite period experienced during winter, with reefs “among the most sensitive of all ecosystems to climate change”.

For the Great Barrier Reef, which a poll found two-thirds of Australians want to see declared a national emergency, its southern reaches have not been as significantly affected by thermal stress as it has further north. According to Heron, this is a positive in the short term, but it would be wrong to assume it would remain this way.

What an extraordinary, gutless capitulation by Josh Frydenberg
Katharine Murphy Political editor
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“I think it is wonderful to point out that there are parts of the Great Barrier Reef that escaped the impacts of bleaching for all of the industries who use the resources of the reef,” he said. “But to say that is representative of the entire reef is a complete falsehood.”

Asked whether the domestic politics of emissions reduction, highlighted this week in Canberra, frustrated the efforts of the scientific community, Heron remained upbeat that necessity would ultimately drive the public policy solutions at home and abroad.

“I still have hope that they will respond with appropriate urgent action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations in the atmosphere,” he said.

“We are on an upward trajectory at an upward rate and we are already halfway towards the threshold that has been defined as being a limit that we really cannot reach.”

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Australia: Dugongs bouncing back around Cairns

Dominic Geiger The Cairns Post 10 Aug 16;

AN aerial survey of dugong populations south of Cairns has shown the sea cows are slowly recovering after cyclone Yasi destroyed much of their primary food source.

Seagrass meadows have been making a comeback across North and Far North Queensland after being badly damaged in the Category 5 storm, and fresh dugong trails have recently been spotted in Cairns’ Trinity Inlet.

Last week, a James Cook University aerial survey found evidence the dugongs, listed as vulnerable in Queensland, were once again breeding in waters south of Cairns.

The dugong population north of Cairns was less impacted by the cyclone, and is considered more healthy than that along the more urbanised coast.

Marine biologist Mark Hamann, of JCU’s Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, said surveys immediately after the 2011 cyclone showed massive seagrass destruction and no evidence of breeding.

“Immediately in the years after cyclone Yasi, seagrass was really decimated along the coast,” Associate Professor Hamann said.

“That would have affected dugongs because if they don’t get enough food, they don’t breed. As seagrasses have recovered, dugong surveys have found the calving rates have resumed.”

Associate Professor Hamann said marine debris, boat strikes, and climate change remained the biggest threats to dugongs in Queensland, and dismissed suggestions traditional hunting was having a major impact.

“Traditional hunting is not the problem from an animal population stability point of view,” he said.

“There are so many other threats we need to consider.”

In October, Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion announced a government crackdown on illegal and “cruel” hunting of dugongs and sea turtles.

They flagged moves to ­introduce more “no-take” zones.

In June, the Gunggandji Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement was signed, with traditional owners agreeing to cease turtle and dugong hunting around Green Island, Michaelmas Cay and Fitzroy Island.

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