Best of our wild blogs: 30 Dec 16

Seagrasses disappearing in Singapore because not enough sex!
wild shores of singapore

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Growing problem for Singapore's seagrass

Jose Hong, Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Dec 16;

Male flowers of Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides)
The small white dots on the seagrass blades are the male flowers, and many of them have not been spotted for at least three to four years. A lack of sexual reproduction could endanger seagrass populations, which are effective at storing carbon, and are key feeding grounds in Singapore waters for sea animals such as dugongs.
Photo: RIA TAN

Most of Singapore's seagrass have not been sexually reproducing for at least three to four years, and worried scientists are working to find out what is wrong.

A lack of sexual reproduction - creating new plants through flowers and seeds - could lead to decreased genetic diversity in seagrass populations here, making them more vulnerable to mass die-offs.

This would harm the environment in many ways, as seagrass meadows are up to 30 times as effective as rainforests at storing carbon, and are key feeding grounds in Singapore waters for sea animals such as dugongs.

Hidden by the waves and frequently overshadowed by more colourful coral reefs, seagrass meadows dot the shores and seas around the country (see map).

Like much of the country's natural heritage, they have been in decline for decades, with around 40 per cent of the original cover lost to coastal development.

Singapore has 12 seagrass species, out of 23 in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the National Parks Board (NParks).

Since 2007, scientists and volunteers have regularly monitored them to check on their health.

As an aside to their actual survey work, they would frequently see seagrass producing fruits and flowers.

Dr Siti Maryam Yaakub, 35, led many of these trips, and said that because Singapore is a tropical country, seagrass should flower and bear fruit all year round.

"We would expect to see them at almost every low tide."

But around three to four years ago, the senior marine ecologist at environmental consultancy firm, DHI Water and Environment, started noticing that most of the flowers and fruits had simply stopped appearing.

Seagrass populations can grow by cloning themselves, and long-term surveys have indeed seen certain meadows increasing in size, such as those at Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin.

But Dr Siti said this clonal growth - if it is indeed what Singapore's seagrass are doing could mean all the new seagrass are equally vulnerable to stressors like disease, making it more likely for entire new populations to die at the same time.

Furthermore, without seeds lying around in the environment, it would be much harder for new plants to return.

Ms Samantha Lai, a PhD candidate at the Experimental Marine Ecology Lab at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said there was already one such case on the shores of Pulau Semakau.

In 2009, a seagrass meadow off the island suddenly died, and aside from a few scattered patches of seagrass, the area remains barren, she said.

Ms Lai said environmental factors were also to blame, but added that one of the consequences of not having enough sexual reproduction "is not having enough seedlings or seeds to help the recovery of Semakau".

Dr Siti described the study of seagrass as "very nascent", and admitted there is still so much that researchers do not understand, but they are "working very hard to fill in many of these gaps".

This is the aim of their current research, which involves NParks in collaboration with NUS and DHI.

Dr Karenne Tun, director of the National Biodiversity Centre (Coastal and Marine) at NParks, said the three-year research project, which ends in the middle of 2018, intends to better understand the dispersal patterns of seagrass, in addition to assessing how resilient they are when faced with various stressors.

"Through the assessment of the status, connectivity and productivity of seagrass meadows in Singapore, we will be able to formulate measures for the conservation of seagrass, including the restoration of habitats for them," she said.

Said Dr Siti: "We are only scratching the surface in understanding what makes seagrass tick.

"Filling these gaps in our knowledge is the best chance we have of ensuring their continued survival."

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Looking forward to 2017: Environment - Sustainability still key, with challenges ahead

Audrey Tan Straits Times 29 Dec 16;

Sustainability is the global buzzword these days and Singapore has done well in walking the talk over the past year.

It has opted to buy paper from sustainable sources, made strides to curb food waste and laid out its action plan to mitigate climate change by boosting energy efficiency across all sectors. These initiatives, among many others, do not just help the environment - they make monetary sense too.

Using energy-efficient appliances could help businesses and households reduce costs over time.

This focus on sustainability looks set to continue next year, as Singapore strives to limit environmental damage in its quest for development.

But it will not be painless, especially when it comes to conserving nature - which is something that cannot be valued in dollars and cents.

Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, summed up the challenges in straddling the fine line between development and nature conservation, when he quoted United States diplomat Henry Kissinger, who once said: "The great tragedies of history occur not when right confronts wrong but when two rights confront each other."

One case study that exemplifies this is the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) move earlier this year to clear a 30ha secondary forest plot in Lentor - through which two rare freshwater streams run - to make way for private housing.

On the one hand, the forest plot is rich in biodiversity and home to several rare animals, including the globally critically endangered Sunda pangolin. On the other hand, providing homes for Singapore's growing population is a national need.

The good news is that the Government has demonstrated its willingness to listen, at the very least, to concerns aired by the environmental community.

To save wild animals in the Lentor plot, for example, the URA embarked on a novel wildlife management plan that involves gradually clearing the site so animals can naturally move to nearby green areas.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has also listened to nature groups and taken steps to reduce the impact of development of the upcoming Cross Island Line, which could potentially tunnel under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

In June, it announced that it will adopt another 10 mitigating measures - on top of an earlier nine - to reduce the impact of soil testing works on plants and animals in Singapore's largest nature reserve.

These were adopted on the back of talks between the LTA and nature groups, and works in the reserve are due to start soon.

On the surface, it may appear encouraging that the LTA has adopted additional measures to reduce the impact of works on the reserve. But the Cross Island Line saga has highlighted several important questions: Is sustainable development just about limiting impact?

Could this result in the term "sustainable development" being used as a catch-all phrase to justify development in all areas? Even in a protected nature reserve - a representative site of the Republic's key natural ecosystems?

The year 2017 is likely to be one in which more of such questions will arise, and will likely be marked with more debate, dialogue and discussion among stakeholders, including the Government and conservation groups.

It is no easy feat to accommodate differing needs in just 719 sq km of land, which is all Singapore has.

As Prof Ng says: "I expect even more challenges to come to the front. This is only to be expected.

"We are starting new things in conservation, research and juggling often conflicting needs. Easy? No.

"But it has to be done anyway."

2016: Notable events
Audrey Tan Straits Times 29 Dec 16;


This year will go down in history as the year in which concrete steps to mitigate climate change were taken. The Paris climate pact, successfully negotiated by almost 200 nations last December, became international law last month.

In July, Singapore outlined its action plan to help the nation meet its green targets - a key strategy of which is to continue to improve energy efficiency across all sectors, namely power generation, industry, buildings, transport, household, waste and water.

The plan also laid out measures to help Singapore boost its resilience to climate change amid erratic weather patterns, in areas such as coastal protection, managing the water supply and improving food supply resilience.


To build or not to build a train tunnel under a nature reserve - that is a question that the authorities have yet to answer. Still, debates over whether the 50km Cross Island Line should go under or around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve were heightened since February, when the Land Transport Authority unveiled the findings of the first phase of an environmental impact assessment.

The study had found that tests to see how the train tunnel could be built through the nature reserve would have a "moderate" impact on plants and animals there, but only if measures to reduce the impact are strictly implemented. Otherwise, the soil investigation works could have a large impact on highly sensitive parts of the nature reserve.


Singapore will have an eco-tourism hub of five wildlife parks by 2023, when development of the leafy Mandai area is complete.

The area will also have eco-lodges, free-access public spaces such as boardwalks and playgrounds, and a nature-themed education centre, according to plans unveiled by developer Mandai Park Holdings in June.

But as the area sits just outside the biodiversity-rich Central Catchment Nature Reserve, nature groups have pointed out the irony in replacing native biodiversity with imported wildlife.

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Looking forward to 2017: Greener rides on track

Christopher Tan. Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Dec 16;

Green will be the colour for 2017 in the land transport sector.

Several changes and developments will pave the way for a more environmentally sustainable way of travel, starting with the opening of Downtown Line 3.

When this 21km MRT line stretching from River Valley to Expo opens by the second half of the year, it will encourage more people to leave their cars at home and take the train.

It will complete a 42km line that links the east of the island to the city centre and the north-west.

Hence, its full potential as a pan-island transit project will be realised.

Trains will not only reach new catchment areas, such as Jalan Besar, Kaki Bukit and Upper Changi, but also provide more convenient options to commuters who may not have to make transfers to complete a journey.

And if a breakdown occurs, say, on the East-West Line, commuters do not have to go far to get onto another line.

Meanwhile, people working in Tuas will get to ride a new line earlier.

The Tuas West Extension - a 7.5km line that goes west from Joo Koon station on the East-West Line - will open in the second quarter.

The extension, which was originally slated to open by the end of this year, will be a boon to those who work or have business operations in the Tuas district.

Despite its vastness, the area is not well served by public transport.

Those who have no choice but to drive today will have an alternative when the line opens.

The two new MRT lines will help boost daily rail ridership towards the 3.5 million mark, up from just more than three million today.

This, in turn, will potentially reduce car usage. The annual mileage clocked on average here has already dropped to 17,500km - down from 21,075km in 2006.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said: "In recent years, the bus contracting model, bus enhancement programme, bus service reliability framework, new rail financing framework, upgrade and renewal of train systems, all have contributed to make Singapore's public transport system the preferred mode of travel."

Elsewhere, a review of the annual growth rate cap on the vehicle population is on the cards next year .

Currently at 0.25 per cent, it could be cut to zero when the new certificate of entitlement quota starts in February 2018.

In line with its aim to make Singapore "car-lite", the Government has already hinted strongly at a zero growth rate.

Prof Lee said this might prove to be "a culture shock" to people "who have long recognised driving as the most convenient mode of travel".

"To a large extent, the city was designed to serve motorised vehicles," he added.

For a successful shift from private to public transport, Prof Lee said a fine balance between "push and pull measures" must be in place.

In this vein, a national electric vehicle sharing scheme slated to be plugged in - possibly by the third quarter - might come in handy.

Of course, questions remain - such as how economically viable the scheme is without subsidies, and how practical it is for families to squeeze into the small bubble-shaped hatchbacks to be used.

But if the scheme takes off, it will contribute in a small way to cleaner air in the city.

So will two other changes slated for 2017 - implementation of Euro 6 emission standards for petrol vehicles in September, and a review of the current Carbon Emissions- based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) by June.

Euro 6 is the strictest emission standard in Europe today. It stipulates a significant reduction in noxious tailpipe emissions, in particular nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter.

Singapore currently enforces the Euro 4 standard for petrol vehicles and Euro 5 for diesel models.

By 2018, diesel vehicles here will have to conform to Euro 6 too.

Just as significant will be a revision to CEVS.

The current scheme, slated to run out by the end of June next year, dishes out tax rebates and surcharges according to how much carbon dioxide a car produces.

The revision is likely to also take into account other pollutants and, as a result, possibly be kinder to electric vehicles.

"We are heading in the right direction," Prof Lee noted.

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Choked drain at MRT site caused flood

AUDREY TAN & JALELAH ABU BAKER, The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Dec 16;

A choked drain in a nearby construction site for the upcoming Upper Thomson MRT station led to the flash floods that put a dampener on the festive mood at several eateries on Christmas Eve.

This was uncovered during investigations by national water agency PUB.

To fix the problem, the Land Transport Authority will get the worksite's contractor to further improve the flow of water in the temporary diversion drain, which acts as a conduit for rain water while drainage upgrading works are ongoing.

"As part of works to construct Upper Thomson MRT Station, PUB is also working with LTA to upgrade the drain along Upper Thomson Road to enhance flood protection for the area," the authorities told The Straits Times.

PUB has also reminded the construction industry to conduct checks on the public drains in the vicinity of their respective construction sites in preparation for the monsoon season.

The flash flood incident took place last Saturday, at a row of shops between Jalan Keli and Jalan Todak near Thomson Plaza.

About eight businesses along Upper Thomson Road were affected by the flash floods, and tenants said they suffered thousands of dollars in losses.

The Meteorological Services Singapore said average rainfall over Singapore that day was 35.5mm, with the highest daily rainfall that day recorded at Tai Seng (86.0mm).

Mr Jamal Mohamed, 50, a cashier at The Roti Prata House, one of the affected eateries, estimated his loss at about $30,000, including the hours that the shop had to stay closed while workers cleaned up.

After it closed at about 5.30pm on Saturday, workers managed to keep regular business hours only on Monday.

"We salvaged what we could, but flour, masala, rice and eggs were wasted," said the employee, who has been working at the food joint for nine years.

The nearby construction for the Upper Thomson station, is part of a 22-station Thomson Line, started in 2014. The station will be built underneath a stretch of Upper Thomson Road between Thomson Plaza and the Church of the Holy Spirit.

The Christmas Eve flash flood was just one of 10 days when flash floods occurred as of Wednesday. This is up from the six that took place during the El Nino year last year, but down from the 17 flash flood days recorded in 2014.

PUB has undertaken efforts to reduce flood-prone areas in Singapore, including the widening and deepening of drains and canals, the construction of new drains and the upgrading of ageing ones.

Such efforts have helped reduce the flood-prone areas in Singapore to 30.5ha to date - down from the 35ha last year.

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Will the drive to make Singapore car-lite succeed?

Kenneth Lim Channel NewsAsia 30 Dec 16;

SINGAPORE: Twin sisters Woo Li Ling and Woo Li Shan jumped on the cycling bandwagon about five years ago after joining an online cycling group. Li Ling, 55, now says cycling is a constant in her life. She rides from her home in Toa Payoh to her Jurong East workplace every day, and takes her bike with her whenever she travels.

But Li Shan has not quite caught on yet. “I don't cycle much mainly because of the traffic,” she said. “Usually I go on the bus lane because bus lane allows bicycles, but it's not nice to occupy the bus lane when the buses are all behind me.”

Still, both are in sync when it comes to what they would like the authorities to do to encourage people to give cycling a go.

"I first had a fear of cycling on the road because Singapore roads are so congested,” Li Ling said. “And although I ride everyday to work now, I start early, before the traffic becomes heavy. I'd like to have more PCN (park connector networks) along the roads, like what they have at Ang Mo Kio and Tampines."

Ang Mo Kio is Singapore's first "walking and cycling" town, launched in July 2016. A 4km cycling path loops around Ang Mo Kio Avenues 1, 3 and 8, taking residents to nearby amenities like the MRT station. The network will be the longest of any town once it is completed in 2019, authorities say, and give cyclists a direct route to the city.

The Ang Mo Kio initiative and others like it reflects Singapore’s desire to push its citizens to adopt public and alternative transport, with an emphasis on reducing car use. This comes even as the city-state grapples with an ageing rail network and land constraints, which affect its ability to build more car parks and roads.

According to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), every HDB town will have its own cycling network by 2030, including new HDB precincts and BTO projects, like Bidadari,Tampines North and the new BTO projects in Sembawang and Yishun. Cycling links in Bishan, Buangkok, Dakota, Dover, Potong Pasir, Woodlands, and Yew Tee are completed, while those in Clementi, Hougang, Marsiling, Promenade, and Sengkang will completed by end 2016.

"What we hope to see is really over the next 10 to 15 years, to see an increase in terms of uptake,” says LTA’s director of Active Mobility Tan Shin Gee. “It’s about 1.5 per cent of people who cycle in Singapore, so we hope to grow that three to four times."

Ms Tan was citing a 2012 LTA large-scale household interview and travel survey done once every five years,focusing on commuters' travel patterns. The next edition of the survey will be conducted next year.

Besides launching more cycling networks, Singapore will also join the ranks of cycling cities like New York and London next year with its first-ever bicycle-sharing program in the Jurong Lake District - which promises more than 1,000 bicycles and 100 docking stations. Such programs have “catalysed the uptake of cycling” in other cities, Ms Tan said.


2016 has also seen more commuters use personal mobility devices like e-scooters and hoverboards on Singapore streets. In December, LTA embarked on a six-month trial, allowing people to take their devices on board trains and buses during peak hours for the very first time. Since then, LTA says it has seen 10 to 15 people do so at each station every day during the morning peak period.

“So far the numbers have not been large, but it's something we will continue to monitor and as we go along perhaps adjust the rules of codes of conduct,” Ms Tan said.

For example, the new Active Mobility Act will be passed in Parliament next year – spelling out the speed limits, penalties, and other guideline for commuters using such devices.

But beyond the numbers, Ms Tan said the aim is “to see a change in terms of peoples' openness to these active modes”.

“In the medium to long term you would regard walking or cycling or using these personal mobility devices as commonplace as hopping on a bus or a train,” Ms Tan says.

But besides making it easier to walk and cycle, one researcher says Singapore's climate also needs to be taken into account.

"At the end of the day, it also means that it's not just mere statistics that we say 80 per cent is within 10 minutes walk or households are within a 10-minute walk of train stations,” says CPG transport consultant Vincent Loh. “We need to ensure that walking is good, comfortable, should be able to attract someone on the sidelines desiring whether to own a car, to purchase a car or to take public transport. So if you make public transport really attractive, I think we could wean off some of this desire."

Mr Loh’s work focuses, among others, on urban design - and making roads or neighbourhoods more accessible to pedestrians. He has proposed that authorities can turn more disused infrastructure, like the Rochor Canal, into linear parks - one way he says countries like Japan have made walking a way of life.

"I think certainly we are always on the lookout to see how we can make our infrastructure fit in better with the surroundings, appeal more to people,” Ms Tan said, when asked about Mr Loh’s proposals.

LTA aims to build about 150 kilometres more sheltered walkways by 2018. And from July this year, commercial developers must submit their plans complete with shelters and crossings for cyclists and pedestrians.


But Mr Loh also says that it is one thing to make public transport more attractive. More steps are needed for Singapore to go car-lite.

"We need to still, I believe, have the other aspect, the other element of vehicle restraint,” he said. “I don't think we can move away from that."

Singapore was among the first cities to adopt vehicle restraint measures like electronic road pricing (ERP), and auctions for car quotas. Public car park rates have risen this year for the first time in 14 years, and Mr Loh said such policies are likely to continue.

"The issue is whether the provision of car park is at the expense of space for other users in the city and elsewhere,” he said.” At the end of the day we want to have more of this space to cater to the larger population which are going to use these facilities. “

But as many in the transport sector say -"car lite" doesn't mean "car-less”, with shared cars still having to play a part in getting people from point to point.

To that end, Singapore’s first large-scale electric car-sharing programme will be launched in 2017, starting in towns like Ang Mo Kio, Jurong East and Punggol. Private hire companies like Uber and Grab have also come out with similar schemes.

But ultimately, those we spoke to say that a car-lite society is possible if Singaporeans takes that first step away from their cars, and shift their travelling habits.

“We hope that over time that beyond the infrastructure plans and the policies we have been changing over time, that we also have the support of the community to get this movement going," Ms Tan said.

"As cyclists, we also have to be responsible,” added Ms Woo Li Ling. “If we are friendly to the drivers, to the motorists, they are friendly to us."

- CNA/dl

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2 Vietnamese men jailed for smuggling songbirds, animal cruelty

Channel NewsAsia 29 Dec 16;

SINGAPORE: Two Vietnamese were jailed six months each for smuggling 12 endangered songbirds into Singapore, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said on Thursday (Dec 29).

AVA said that the two men were also sentenced to four months' imprisonment for subjecting the birds to unnecessary pain or suffering. Both sentences have been backdated to Dec 15 and will run concurrently.

AVA said it was notified that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) had found the birds in the luggage bags of the men, who had arrived on a flight from Vietnam to Singapore, on Dec 9.

The birds were concealed in white plastic containers measuring 21cm by 6.5cm by 6.5cm, and covered with personal belongings in two luggage bags.

The two men were detained and the birds and luggage bags were seized for AVA's investigation, the authority said.

AVA’s investigations identified the birds to be Chinese Hwamei, a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The birds had been confined for about 12 hours in the plastic containers without food and water, and one did not survive, it added.

As part of the investigation, the remaining 11 birds were tested for avian influenza. One of the birds was found positive for antibodies against Influenza A virus (H3N8), meaning that the bird was exposed to the virus before its arrival in Singapore.

As a precautionary measure, the bird was euthanised and the remaining 10 birds are being monitored in quarantine for signs of diseases, AVA said.

The agency noted that animals that are smuggled into Singapore are of unknown health status and may introduce exotic diseases, into the country. AVA maintains Singapore's bird flu-free status through strict import regulations and enforcement, it added.

Under AVA regulations, ornamental birds can only be imported from countries that are free from bird flu, and must undergo a 21-day pre-export isolation in the country of export. The birds must be tested free from bird flu before import and checked again for clinical signs of diseases upon arrival in Singapore.

Importing animals or birds without an AVA permit carries a maximum penalty of S$10,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.

Offenders who bring in CITES-protected species, including their parts and products, without a CITES permits can be fined up to S$50,000 per scheduled species, to a maximum of S$500,000 and up to two years' jail.

If the animals or birds were subjected to unnecessary suffering or pain, offenders are subject to a maximum fine of S$10,000 and imprisonment of up to 12 months.

- CNA/mz

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Malaysia: Stay away from high tides, villagers warned

The Star 30 Dec 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Stay away from the beach, the Civil Defence Force (APM) has warned.

The caution is out as high tides are expected to continue through the days ahead.

State APM Disaster Management, Opera­tions and Logistics officer Lt Norasmawi Abdul Mutalib said waves reached up to 2.5m at Kampung Tanjung Gelam in Kuala Nerus on Wednesday night.

He said many people were seen standing on a slippery slope watching the big waves hitting the shore.

“This is dangerous, what if they slipped and fell? We will have a disaster. People should not get too excited,” he added.

The high tide phenomenon that night saw huge waves hitting some homes in the village located by the beach, damaging the road as well.

Lt Norasmawi said villagers living close to the beach were advised to move away “as staying put can be dangerous”.

“So far, one family has moved to stay with relatives. Their house is directly facing the beach,” he said.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Razif Abd Rahman announced an immediate allocation of RM1.2mil to stem erosion in the village.

He said the allocation was a short-term measure to protect the coastline.

“For the longer term, we have a RM40mil federal allocation.

“We are designing a breakwater to overcome the erosion,” he told reporters after visiting Pulau Sekati bridge here yesterday.

Ahmad Razif said the state government had acted to minimise erosion at the Tok Jembal beach, mainly around Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and Teluk Ketapang, by building wave breakers.

“The DID has suggested that we do the same in Tanjung Gelam, where two breakwaters must be built.

“However, it needs to study this in detail, so that it does not affect the beaches around Batu Rakit and the surrounding areas,” Ahmad Razif added.

He said the Federal Government had allocated RM90mil to tackle erosion in the coastal villages of Tok Jembal, Tanjung Ketapang and Teluk Gelam, with another RM30mil allocation to the Public Works Department, raising the figure to RM120mil.

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Malaysia: Reclamation works won’t start until EIA completed, says Penang

LO TERN CHERN and CHONG KAH YUAN The Star 29 Dec 16;

BUTTERWORTH: The Penang state government has assured that the reclamation project south of the island would not start as the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies have yet to be completed.

Penang State Local Government, Transport Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said they are waiting for the setting up of a joint committee by the Natural Resources and Environmental Ministry to study the reclamation projects in Penang.

“We will wait for Federal Government approval before starting work to reclaim land south of Penang Island,” he said adding that the state assembly had also passed a motion that the reclamation work will not start without approval from Putrajaya.

The state had proposed reclaiming about 1,500ha of land off the southern tip of Penang island to create three islands – Island A (930.78ha), Island B (560ha) and Island C (330.22ha) – under the South Reclamation Scheme (SRS) to fund its RM46bil Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) project.

On Wednesday, Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar called for Penang to halt its reclamation projects pending a new dual-assessment system for the development projects.

Dr Wan Junaidi said a committee would be set up to look into, among others, legal and constitutional aspects pertaining to the developments.

He said the study would then be used as a test case for other reclamation projects nationwide including to draw a new system on EIA and Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA).

He also said the Cabinet, the National Land Council and the National Physical Planning Council would consider the new guidelines that will include a wider range of elements to be considered before development projects are approved.

Two NGOs from Penang supported this call, saying that all reclamation work in the state should be put off until new and improved requirements for EIAs and DEIAs are put in place.

President S.M. Mohamed Idris of both Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) said the announcement by Natural Resources and Environment Ministry for new requirements to the existing EIA regulations and DEIA guidelines are long overdue.

“Urgent improvements need to be made to overcome existing shortcomings in the current system.

“There should be a serious consideration of alternatives to proposed projects, including a no-project option, so that projects are not allowed to proceed if the environmental and social impacts are serious.

“Other measures should include the hiring of independent consultants which are paid through an independent fund to which project proponents provide financial resources.

This will prevent the dangers of having consultants who produce biased EIAs or DEIAs which favour their paymasters,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

Penang hopes new EIA requirements not retrospective
The Star 30 Dec 16;

BUTTERWORTH: The state government says new guidelines for the Environment Impact Assess­ment (EIA) and Detailed Environ­mental Assessment (DEIA) should not be made retrospective for EIA studies already underway in the state.

State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said it should not apply in cases where the Department of Environment (DoE) had already approved the terms of reference.

“We hope the new EIA requirements are not made retrospective,” Chow said yesterday.

The state has proposed reclaiming about 1,500ha of land off the southwestern coast of the island to fund its ambitious RM46bil mega-transportation project.

The terms of reference for the on­­going EIA study has been approved by the DoE.

On Wednesday, the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry said new compulsory procedures for EIA and DEIA studies for all development projects in the country would be submitted to the Cabinet, National Land Council and National Physical Planning Council before implementation.

Its minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said when approved, it would be the new EIA and DEIA system to be followed nationwide.

He urged all states to stop reclamation projects pending the study for a new dual-assessment system for development projects.

Chow assured that the reclamation project south of the island would not start as the EIA had yet to be completed.

“We welcome the setting up of the joint committee to study reclamation projects in Penang by the ministry.

“If the ministry feels there are certain areas which need to be stu­died in greater detail, we are ready to cooperate,” he said.

“We are willing to comply with any additional requirement and work within the legal framework.

“We will wait for Federal Govern­ment’s approval (based on current approved guidelines) before starting work to reclaim land south of Penang Island.”

Chow said this when visiting the pump house at Taman Chai Leng in Prai.

He said the state assembly had also approved a motion that the reclamation work at the south of the island would not start without Putrajaya approval.

“This is to inform all that we are conducting the EIA according to the terms of reference agreed by DoE,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sahabat Alam Malay­sia and Consumers Associa­tion of Penang president S.M. Mohamed Idris called for the new EIA and DEIA requirements to include alternatives and the option to call off the proposed projects if the environmental and social impact was severe.

Mohamed Idris said public feedback should also be taken into account.

He said independent consultants, paid through an independent fund, would prevent biased EIA or DEIA “that favour their paymasters”.

Idris said Penang should put on hold the reclamation work pending the approval of new requirements.

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Malaysia: Pack up and leave! Alor Star to phase out usage of polystyrene packaging

EMBUN MAJID New Straits TImes 29 Dec 16;

ALOR STAR: The Alor Star City Council (MBAS) today launched a campaign to reduce the usage of polystyrene materials for food and drink packaging here beginning next year.

MBAS secretary Hakim Ariff Md Noor said the campaign focuses on all types of eatery outlet operators, including restaurants and night market traders.

He said polystyrene packaging is widely used by eatery outlet operators and night market traders in the city, and the material is among the major contributors to the city's landfill in Jabi, Pokok Sena.

Hakim said the council will be organising talks and campaigns, with help from SWCorp Malaysia, to educate eatery operators on the dangers to the environment posed by polystyrene materials.

“We want to reduce the usage polystyrene packaging in the city, and replace it with bio-degradable material,” he told newsmen after launching the campaign today.

Hakim added that the campaign will pave the way towards achieving MBAS’ long-term vision of cultivating a greener Alor Star.

Negri to continue using plastic bags
The Star 30 Dec 16;

SEREMBAN: Negri Sembilan has decided not to follow the “zero plastic bag” campaign so as not to burden the people.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Moha­mad Hasan said the state government, on the other hand, preferred to educate the public on recycling to protect the environment.

“If we do away with plastic (bags), the people have to pay (to get bags). This will be burdensome to them.

“In Negri Sembilan, we don’t want to add to the people’s burden but educate them on recycling,” he was quoted as saying in a Bernama report after chairing a state executive council meeting at Wisma Negeri here on Wednesday.

He was earlier asked by reporters if the state government would follow in the footsteps of the Selangor state government which is banning the use of plastic bags and polystyrene containers from Sunday.

Mohamad said the implementation of the “zero plastic bag” policy or campaign would only enable other quarters to profit.

“The supermarkets and business owners can make money by selling plastic bags which should be given for free. It’s up to them, I will not emulate it,” he said.

In Johor, the Johor Baru Municipal Coun­cil (MBJB) said it would stop using polystyrene food containers during its events.

The move, which takes effect immediately, is in line with the state government’s plan to use only biodegradable food containers in Johor from 2018.

Johor Baru mayor A. Rahim Nin said this would help underscore the message on using biodegradable food containers.

“MBJB will be taking a strict approach. All caterers or food ope­rators involved in our programmes or activities will not be using non-biodegradable products,” he told a press conference yesterday.

Rahim said MBJB would also en­­courage the use of biodegradable food containers among business owners and food operators in Johor.

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Indonesia: Number of natural disasters hit 14-year high in 2016

Fachrul Sidiq The Jakarta Post 29 Dec 16;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Thursday that 2,342 natural disasters had been recorded in Indonesia this year, the highest figure in 14 years.

“It’s a new record, the highest since 2002,” said BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho when he presented a year-end report at the BNPB headquarters in Jakarta.

He further said 766 of the total calamities were floods, followed by whirlwinds and landslides, which ranked second and third with 669 and 612 cases, respectively. The disasters claimed 522 lives, displaced more than 3 million people and damaged 69,287 houses and 2,311 public facilities in areas across the archipelago.

By way of comparison, Sutopo said Indonesia was hit by 1,732 natural disasters in 2015, lower than the 1,967 in 2014, 1,674 in 2013 and 1,811 in 2012.

“This year, there has been an uncertain period of dry and wet seasons, which have led to an escalating figure for natural disasters. Even during what was supposed to be the peak of our dry season, floods and landslides still occurred,” Sutopo said. Bandung in West Java, Bima in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) and Pangkal Pinang in Bangka Belitung were among the areas prone to flooding, he went on.

Sutopo said raising public awareness on an effective disaster risk management was imperative to prevent, and mitigate the impact of, disasters in the future because millions of Indonesian people were currently living in disaster-prone areas. (ebf)

Disaster mitigation agency predicts fewer disasters in 2017
Fachrul Sidiq The Jakarta Post 29 Dec 16;

Indonesia will see fewer natural disasters next year thanks to the weaker effects of the La Niña and El Niño phenomenon, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) predicted.

BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said his office predicted that hydro-metrology catastrophes would still dominate natural disaster figures in 2017, but they would not be as disastrous as in 2016, in which 2,342 natural calamities occurred.

“Next year, the peak phase of hydro-meteorology disasters will be in January to February. However, rain density will be normal so the risk of flooding, landslides and whirlwinds will be lower [as compared to 2016],” he said during a year-end presentation at the BNPB in East Jakarta on Thursday.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) expects the strong effects of La Niña, which involves a natural cooling of Pacific Ocean waters and generally follows El Niño, which carries the opposite effect, will last until before the first half of the year, after which the dry and wet seasons will return to normal, Sutopo said.

According to the BNPB’s year-end report, floods ( 766 ), whirlwinds ( 669 ) and landslides ( 612 ) were the most frequently occurring natural disasters in 2016, with landslides and floods the deadliest catastrophes, having claimed the lives 188 and 147 people, respectively. (evi)

Indonesia records highest number of natural disasters in 2016
Fardah Antara 31 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia was battered by 2,342 natural disasters in 2016, the highest in the past 14 years, making it one of the most violent years in recent memory.

According to data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the number of natural disasters increased by 35 percent during 2016 from 1,732 in the previous year, with flooding, landslides and whirlwinds still dominating.

As many as 522 people were killed, and some three million others were affected or displaced in the disasters, which also damaged at least 70 thousand houses. The nation lost tens of trillions of rupiahs due to the catastrophes.

Ninety-two percent of the natural disasters that hit Indonesia during the year were hydro-meteorological in nature -- floods, landslides, and whirlwinds.

The country was stricken by 766 floods (up 52 percent from 2015), 612 landslides (up 19 percent), and 669 whirlwinds (up 15 percent).

Flooding claimed 147 lives and affected 2.72 million people. Landslides killed 188 people, an increase from 135 in 2015.

"Natural disasters have caused a lot of suffering, mostly among the poor," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman of BNPB said in a statement issued on Dec 29, 2016.

"Surveys in several regions show that the poor people have suffered more because of the natural disasters. Imagine, those living along Bengawan Solo River have been hit by floods five times a year, and in Sampang (Madura) 15 times a year, on average," he said.

He called on the media to help promote greater awareness of disasters among the public.
The knowledge about natural disasters has indeed improved significantly, but it has not been applied in daily life, he said.

As an example, he cited the fact that although Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because the country lies between the Ring of Fire and the Alpide Belt, very rarely do people build earthquake-prone houses.

The Ring of Fire is a major area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur annually. With its 40 thousand km horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. It has 452 volcanoes, including more than 75 percent of the worlds active and dormant volcanoes.

Indonesia has experienced some the worlds deadliest natural disasters, such as the 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa Volcano, and a magnitude-9.3 earthquake off the waters off Aceh that triggered a massive tsunami on Dec 26, 2004.

The Indian Ocean earthquake and its resulting tsunami killed an estimated 225,000 to 230,210 people, mostly in Aceh Province and Nias Island (North Sumatra Province), as well as in several other countries in Southeast and South Asia.

In the latest major earthquake, measuring 6.5 on the Richter Scale, which hit Aceh Province on December 7, 2016, the fatalities numbered 103, and some 8,000 others were injured.

In fact, a total of 5,578 earthquakes were recorded during 2016, or an average of 460 tremors every month; 12 of them were destructive.

As for volcanoes, out of 127 active volcanoes, 16 volcanoes indicate above-normal activity, including Mount Sinabung, located in North Sumatra, which has been erupting since the past several years.

Currently, 9,319 residents of the nine villages located surrounding Mt Sinabung are still in refugee camps while 4,919 others from four villages are also bracing for evacuation.

However, there was good news in the fight against forest fires. Indonesia remained haze-free in 2016, after two decades of experiencing annual forest fires, which had triggered haze, Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has confirmed.

"For the first time, in 2016, we did not experience major forest fires thanks to the joint hard work of many regions. The number of hotspots decreased by 80 to 92 percent, according to the NOAA and Terra satellite methods," the minister said on Dec 10, 2016.

The number of hotspots recorded from January 1 to December 9, 2016 was 3,844, a significant drop from 21,847 during the same period in the previous year.

Indonesia will likely experience more intense disaster events by January 2017 due to a strong La Nina phenomenon, known for causing torrential downpours and widespread flooding across the state, the BNPB has predicted.

The agency has warned the people to be vigilant against hydro-meteorological disasters during January-April and November-December 2017.

"From June to October, drought that could induce forest and plantation fires might happen. And there might be earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, too," Sutopo said, while releasing the agencys predictions of disasters during 2017.

Indonesia recorded 1,967 natural disasters in 2014, 1,674 in 2013, and 1,811 in 2012.(*)

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Is China Building a Ghost City on Malaysian Islands?

A Chinese company is constructing high-rises on man-made land. Will people live there?
MIMI KIRK CityLab 30 Dec 16;

China is known for its hundreds of “ghost cities”—ultra-modern metropolises built for the country’s urbanizing population that have yet to attract many residents. High-rise apartment and office buildings, pavilions, sculptures, and even a man-made lake with music piped in among its surrounding paths sit almost devoid of human activity. The flip side to these eerily hollow cities are frenetic urban centers such as Beijing and Shanghai, where rural to urban migration has caused populations to explode.

Middle-class Chinese unable to afford residential investment properties in these desirable cities have traditionally looked internationally, to places like Vancouver and Sydney. In recent years, those cities, too, have become more expensive, pricing out buyers with smaller nest eggs. Today, in what Bloomberg calls the “world’s biggest real estate frenzy,” middle-class Chinese are buying apartments and homes in lower-priced areas, such as Houston, Orlando, Thailand’s Pattaya Beach (a resort area south of Bangkok), and Malaysia’s Johor Bahru, which sits just north of Singapore in a special economic zone.

While such investment generally concerns existing housing, in Johor Bahru, Chinese companies are building their own high-rises and villas. One outfit, Country Garden, is building enough to accommodate a whopping 700,000 people. Though Malaysians, Singaporeans, and other nationalities will purchase some of the units, they are being heavily marketed to Chinese, with planeloads of potential buyers flown in to peruse model apartments. Luxury two-bedroom units are going for as little as $180,000—around a third of what buyers would pay in central Shanghai.

The project isn’t just about housing. Country Garden is also developing office buildings, parks, hotels, malls, and an international school—all on four artificial islands four times the size of Central Park. The resulting metropolis has been dubbed Forest City. The Malaysian government granted Country Garden tax incentives and other preferential policies to develop the area.

Such projects are also good for the Chinese construction sector. “With less building occurring in China due to the slowing economy, Chinese construction companies are turning toward international opportunities,” says David Dollar, a senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. Dollar notes that Chinese companies more frequently look abroad to build infrastructure, such as railroads, power stations, and dams, as opposed to entire cities. However, China has constructed a few special economic zones and metropolises in such countries as Angola, Ethiopia, and Nigeria, with varying degrees of success.

Forest City fills individual and corporate investment needs. But the question remains whether enough apartments and homes will be sold. “God only knows who is going to buy all these units,” Siva Shanker, a former president of the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents, told Bloomberg. So far, supply is far outpacing demand. Last year, the glut of housing in Johor Bahru caused the value of residential sales to drop by almost one-third.

Developers are banking on Johor Bahru’s proximity to Singapore, as well as the widespread use of Mandarin Chinese and Chinese dialects in the region, to make Forest City a desirable place for Chinese ex-pats to live. But even if there are enough buyers, owners may choose to simply keep the properties empty, as investments, or save them for retirement or their children—potentially creating an atmosphere not unlike a Chinese ghost city.

Professor Xu Yanzhuo of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing adds that Forest City will only succeed if it brings value to the local population. Area developers, shying away from residential projects now that Chinese companies are building housing en masse, are working to generate more business in the area to fill the high-rises with workers. “Industries…will bring a demand for the houses [being built],” Izzadin Idris, CEO of local property developer UEM Group, told Bloomberg.

If such demand isn’t created and the local community doesn’t benefit, says Xu, the metropolis “will quickly become a ghost city.”

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Indonesia: Bad haze unlikely to return next year

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Dec 16;

This year, there were only 14,490 hot spots recorded in Indonesia this year, compared to 78,164 last year.

The choking haze that enveloped Singapore and Malaysia last year is unlikely to be repeated next year, an Indonesian official said yesterday, as the weather in Sumatra and Kalimantan is forecast to return to the pattern of past years, thus reducing the threat of forest and land fires.

The number of hot spots last year - triggered by fires covering forests and the dry land on the two Indonesian islands - were recorded at a staggering 78,164, spawning the haze that sent air pollution indices in Singapore and Malaysia to very unhealthy levels.

This year, 14,490 hot spots were recorded, with no major haze.

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of Indonesia's disaster management agency BNPB, said at a year-end briefing in Jakarta: "There won't likely be any strengthening of either El Nino or La Nina.

"That means there won't be a dry season that is too dry. Likewise with the wet season."

El Nino is a weather phenomenon which leads to prolonged hot and dry weather in the region like it did last year, while La Nina gives an opposite effect.

Indonesia will still have forest and land fires next year, he said, but the hot spot counts and their coverage would be small compared to last year.


"Why can't we put the hot spot count to zero? It is difficult because this is about a custom and people earning a living. Villagers clear their farm by burning," he said.

Dr Sutopo said the decline in hot spots was not only due to better weather but also harsher law enforcement on errant corporations and individuals, and better fire prevention measures by the government and private sector.

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