Best of our wild blogs: 28 Feb 17

A Backyard Dive into Resilience
Hantu Blog

Singapore got sea turtles!
wild shores of singapore

Read more!

Singapore has a feather in its cap

Despite its small size, the country is home to an array of wildlife, including about 150 species of resident birds
Straits Times 27 Feb 17;

With a land area of about 720 sq km that is marked by rapid urbanisation, Singapore is home to a surprisingly diverse array of wildlife.

In fact, about 150 species of birds can be found here all-year round.

To celebrate the colour they bring to our concrete jungle, The Straits Times' photojournalists will showcase birds that often go unnoticed in this first of a two-part Wildlife Singapore series to commemorate World Wildlife Day on Friday.

This annual celebration and move to heighten awareness of the world's wild animals and plants is founded in the signing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

The convention - an international agreement between governments with an objective to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival - was signed on March 3, 1973.

But it was about 40 years later, on Dec 20, 2013, that the United Nations General Assembly decided to declare March 3 as World Wildlife Day.

In Singapore, the wildlife list shows more than 390 species of birds. Of these, nearly 150 species are residents here, which means they can be found all-year round, and that there is evidence of them breeding here.

Birds play an important role in the urban landscape here, said Mr Lim Kim Chuah, chairman of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group.

"They help with the reproduction of plants - as pollinators and seed dispersers - and control the population of bugs.

"Birds also provide a recreational and aesthetic value, as enjoying nature and watching wildlife is a great way to relax and de-stress, especially in a hectic environment like Singapore," he added.

"Lastly, parks, gardens and forests attract tourists and, to some extent, eco-tourists. This brings economic benefits to the country," he noted.

Next Monday, the second part of this series will feature our photographers' visual take on the land and sea creatures of Singapore.

The Straits Times picture desk would like to thank the following for their assistance in this project:
National Parks Board
Mr Lim Kim Chuah, chairman of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group
Mr Yong Ding Li, committee member of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group
Ms Ria Tan, naturalist who runs

Read more!

Indonesia: Jakarta remains flood alert until March

Fardah Antara 28 Feb 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesias capital city of Jakarta is always flooded during peak rainy season annually and now is still prone to flooding.

This year, extreme weather is forecast to bring heavy rainfall that could cause floods until March.

Widespread flooding hit at least 54 areas and submerged thousands of homes in the metropolitan city following incessant downpour on Feb 20 and 21, 2017.

Some 11 of the 54 flood-hit areas were in South Jakarta, 29 in East Jakarta, and 14 in North Jakarta.

Floodwaters reached up to 30 centimeters in height in Grogol; up to 1.5 meters in height in Gunung Sahari; and up to 2 meters in height in Cipinang Melayu. Flooding was also reported in Kelapa Gading, Kemang, Kebayoran Baru, and Cawang.

The flooding disrupted traffic and caused congestion on several roads, according to information from the Jakarta Polices Traffic Management Center.

In Cipinang Melayu, East Kalimantan, over 900 flood victims took refuge in Borobudur Universitys mosque.

A total of 304 schools located in Central, North, West, South, and East Jakarta were inundated on Feb 21, forcing their temporary shutdown.

In Central Jakarta, flooding affected 45 elementary schools, 12 junior high schools, 4 senior high schools, and 3 vocational high schools.

In North Jakarta, 1 kindergarten, 48 elementary schools, 16 junior high schools, 8 senior high schools, and 10 vocational high schools were inundated.

Flooding also submerged 1 kindergarten, 56 elementary schools, 18 junior high schools, 5 senior high schools, and 1 vocational high school in West Jakarta.

In South Jakarta, 21 elementary schools, 2 junior high schools, 3 senior high schools, and 3 vocational schools were flooded.

At least 35 elementary schools, 5 junior high schools, 5 senior high schools, and 2 vocational high schools were submerged by floods.

On Feb 22, Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama apologized to victims affected by flooding and promised to continue a project aimed at preventing it from happening again.

"I apologize to Jakarta residents, especially the elderly and children. We understand that it is hard to go through this," he noted.

Indonesias National Disaster Management Authority (BNPB) stated that there were about 480 emergency reports received on Feb 21, mainly in East and South Jakarta.

BNPB Chief Willem Rampangilei pointed out that that the floods were caused by a combination of heavy rain and high tides, sedimentation, and man-made factors such as garbage thrown by squatters living along the river.

Besides, flooding occurred as nearly 80 percent of rain water turned into flood, while drainages and rivers could not accommodate the water.

Help came among other things from the Indonesian Air Force Operations Command (Koopsau) I which set up a task force team to assist the flood victims in Jakarta and its surrounding areas.

"The flood standby task force team comprises a company of personnel, equipped with inflatable boats, outboard motors, life belts, an ambulance, a helicopter, and other equipment to evacuate flood victims and distribute aid," Koopsau I Commander Rear Marshal Yuyu Sutisna stated on Feb 21.

The task force was led by Koopsau I operations assistant Colonel Syamsul Rizal.

Earlier, on Feb 15, floods in Jakarta had affected 7,788 people, or 3,393 households, following incessant rainfall that caused the Ciliwung River to spill over its bank.

"Heavy downpour in upstream and central areas of Ciliwung River triggered flooding along its bank in Jakarta," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of BPBN, said in a statement.

Flood waters, reaching a height of up to 1.5 meter, submerged several areas in East Jakarta, such as Cawang, Cibubur, Rambutan (Ciracas Sub-district), Cililitan, Kampung Melayu, and Bidakara Cina (Jatinegara Sub-district).

Meanwhile, major floods were also reported in Jakarta's suburban areas such as in Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi on Feb. 21.

Two persons were dead and at least 279 residents of the city of Bekasi, West Java Province, were moved to an evacuation shelter.

Among flood-affected residential areas in Bekasi were the housing complex for lecturers of the Institute of Teacher Training and Education, Surya Mandala, Mutiara Gading Timur, Pondok Timur Indah, Pondok Ungu Permai, Nasio, Interup Asri, Pondok Hijau Permai, Pondok Chandra, Harapan Mulya, Bougenvil, Griya Jatisari and Buana Risma Complex, among others.

As forecast by the National Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysic Agency (BMKG), the rainy season in Indonesia has peaked in February, triggering hydrometeorological disasters such as floods and landsides in several provinces.

In the last few days, floods have been reported in Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, East Java, East Nusa Tenggara, West Nusa Tenggara, West Kalimantan, North Maluku, Banten, and North Sulawesi, among others.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 27 Feb 17

4 Mar (Sat): FREE Ubin Mangrove tour with R.U.M.!
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Wild fun for kids during the March school holidays!
wild shores of singapore

Garden Supple Skink (Lygosoma bowringii) @ Pulau Ubin
Monday Morgue

Read more!

Project to save horseshoe crab wins green prize in Singapore

Toh Wen Li Straits Times 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE - ITE College West student Eunos Chong had never met a horseshoe crab face to face until a project he started about two years ago made him passionate about protecting the endangered creatures.

As part of a project for the SembCorp Marine Green Wave Environmental Care Competition, Mr Chong, 18, and three of his schoolmates designed and manufactured a "Horseshoe Crab Propagation System", a system of tanks and an incubator for breeding and rearing horseshoe crabs.

And on Thursday (Feb 23), they took home the winning prize in the junior college/ ITE category for their project.

Mr Chong said the project aims to help repopulate horseshoe crab species in the wild, and encourage Singaporeans to learn more about them.

Horseshoe crabs have been around since before the dinosaur era. Despite their name, they are not crabs and only superficially resemble crustaceans. Instead, they are closely related to arachnids - a group that includes spiders and scorpions.

After the "back-breaking work" of fishing the horseshoe crab eggs - smaller than a green bean - from the shoreline at Kranji, the team placed the eggs in an incubator system equipped with an industrial temperature controller, air pumps and oxygen-booster to increase the hatch rate.

After the horseshoe crabs hatched, they were transferred to various tanks, including a hatching tank, nursing tank and display tank. It took them about eight months to design and manufacture the incubator and tank systems.

Mr Chong said the team has already bred "hundreds" of horsehoe crabs in captivity, and most have been released back into the wild.

He said he soon grew attached to the marine creatures, adding: "Initially, I was afraid to touch them. Their tails were intimidating... Later, it felt as though I was feeding my own child. You have to feed the horseshoe crabs gently, and tend to their needs."

Mr Chong and his teammates have already won $8,000 and a one-month work attachment with BP Singapore, but said it is still early days for the project. They hope to increase the survival rate of the horseshoe crabs from 20 to at least 50 per cent by making improvements to the system.

A total of 69 teams from primary and secondary schools, junior colleges, ITEs and tertiary institutions received prizes at the Marina Mandarin hotel on Thursday morning.

SembCorp Marine's Green Wave Environmental Care Competition for Schools, now in its 15th year, received 279 project submissions involving more 900 students in 2016.

The competition aims to give students a broader perspective of the environmental challenges faced by Singapore and other countries, by having them showcase practical ideas for environmental sustainability.

Other winning projects involved a "Water Saver" device designed by students from Northland Primary School, and a cellulose aerogel material designed by Hwa Chong Institution students to be more effective at soaking up oil spills.

The competition is organised by Sembcorp Marine, and co-sponsored by BP Shipping and Shell International Eastern Trading Company.

Sembcorp Marine's president and CEO Wong Weng Sun said: "We all agree that the increasingly thoughtful and sophisticated entries we see from each successive Green Wave competition bodes well for Singapore's long-term sustainability management."

Said Minister for Education Ng Chee Meng, who was guest-of-honour at the event: "We want to nurture our young to keep exploring beyond textbooks, and competitions like Green Wave provide them with an opportunity to identify real-life problems, work in teams, undertake research and come up with practical solutions."

He encouraged students to be enterprising, push boundaries, and get out of their comfort zones. Touching on the importance of "informal learning spaces", he urged parents not to focus too much on academic grades.

Read more!

Need to tap maids in drive to save water

Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Feb 17;

Domestic workers take care of water-intensive activities such as washing and cooking. But they may not necessarily be aware of water- saving drives and messages, according to experts.

To help turn things around, some private and public organisations are planning to reach out, or have already engaged, these maids to acquaint them with the importance of conserving water.

The issue of saving water came under the spotlight after last Monday's Budget announcement that the Government is raising water prices by up to 30 per cent, the country's first such hike in 17 years.

This comes amid increasing concerns about Singapore's long-term water security.

Experts said the message about saving water may not be trickling down to many maids, going by their years of field experience and interactions with people in different countries. This is not helped by the fact that maids are not the ones paying the bills in Singapore.

Professor Asit Biswas of National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said the Republic is very different from developed cities in the West, because many of the middle and upper-class households have maids.

"No European or North American city has Singapore's unique characteristic of maids," said Prof Biswas, who has advised United Nations agencies and governments around the world on water security.

"And because the water price in Singapore is so low (relative to household income), the person in charge of water, for all practical purposes, is the maid."

While the price of potable water in major European cities ranges from about $5 to $8.50 per cu m, including taxes, that in Singapore is about $2 and will remain below $3 even after the 30 per cent hike.

Prof Biswas said the water-saving campaigns have mainly targeted Singaporeans, and this needs to be adjusted to educate maids too.

There are about 230,000 maids in Singapore, said the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support & Training (Fast).

Professor Ng Yew Kwang of Nanyang Technological University's Division of Economics said the phenomenon of how people who turn the taps on may not be actually paying the bills is a common one.

This is applicable to cleaners, for instance, apart from maids.

He added that a way around the problem would be to increase water prices substantially so that employers will take action. He had previously said that even a doubling of water prices would not be excessive from an economic perspective.

In response to queries from The Sunday Times, national water agency PUB said it has worked with the Ministry of Manpower to organise educational roadshows and activities on water conservation for domestic helpers.

The agency has produced a bilingual video and a water-saving handbook in English, Bahasa Indonesia, Tamil and Burmese that is shared with maid agencies and training providers.

Meanwhile, Fast president Seah Seng Choon said the association plans to organise talks by PUB, give away water-saving gadgets and appoint Save Water Ambassadors among its 6,000 member maids.

"Fast will be a vehicle to reinforce foreign domestic workers to do their part (to save water) as they are part of the fabric of Singapore society," added Mr Seah.

Meanwhile, some employers have been trying to educate their maids on saving water.

One of them is Madam Yeong Soh Yeng, a freelance pre-school teacher. She lives in a five-room Housing Board flat with her husband, seven children and their Indonesian maid, Madam Fatimah Dulhadi.

Madam Yeong, 62, noted that water usage by maids from different countries may differ, so it is up to employers to let them know how to manage the use of water for household chores.

She has taught Madam Fatimah, 35, to collect water from the washing machine's rinse cycles, which she said amounts to more than 10 litres, to wash the floor and flush the toilet.

In another household, administration officer Maha Leckshmi, 64, makes the effort to educate her Sri Lankan maid Welendra Mulacharige Wimalawathie, 55, on saving water.

The two, who live in a three-room flat in Yishun, use the washing machine only for curtains and bedsheets, and bathe from a pail.

Said Madam Leckshmi of her maid: "She's like family. I always show her the bill and tell her we need to save water and electricity."

Read more!

Malaysia: Fraser’s Hill to be kept pristine for migratory birds

The Star 27 Feb 17;

RAUB: Fraser’s Hill which is a habitat for migratory birds will be kept pristine, said state Tourism and Culture Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Sharkar Shamsudin.

“As of now, only 5% of the Fraser’s Hill is developed and there will be no more development. Only upgrading of existing facilities will be allowed,” he said.

“We have to limit the development in the area. This is a well-known tourist attraction and a bird watching destination,” he after attending the closing ceremony of the Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race yesterday.

A total of 315 bird lovers took part in the competition here yesterday.

The participants came from countries such as Japan, Nepal, Canada, France, South Africa, the Netherlands and United Kingdom.

As for the proposed project to have a cable car from Raub to Fraser’s Hill, Mohd Sharkar said the feasibility studies found that it was not viable.

Mohd Sharkar also said that Fraser’s Hill was one of the oldest tourist destinations in the world and that it was loved for its cool climate and greenery.

Last year, the hill resort was a very popular with tourists and welcomed 123,483 visitors, which was a 6% increase compared to 2015.

“One of the main attractions here is bird watching,” he said.

“Our country is in the fourth position in Asia as a birding destination after China, India and Thailand.”

Mohd Sharkar said there were at least 785 species of bird recorded in the country and most of these birds could be found in Fraser’s Hill.

He said BirdLife International, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, had identified Fraser’s Hill as an “important bird area (IBA)”.

Read more!

Malaysia: No logging or mining activity in Tasik Chini -- Wan Junaidi

The Star 27 Feb 17;

PETALING JAYA: There have been no logging activities or bauxite mining in Tasik Chini since 2014 contrary to a newspaper report, said Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

“I want to clarify that the report on Tasik Chini was based on its condition from 2009 to 2013 and it does not reflect its current condition,” said the Natural Resources and Environment Minister in a statement yesterday.

Dr Wan Junaidi said the aerial footage of the supposed logging activities was taken in 2013.

“After the floods in 2014, the Government made several efforts to restore the surrounding areas in Tasik Chini,” he said.

On Saturday, a Malay daily reported that Tasik Chini – recognised as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO – was plagued by uncontrolled logging, mining and farming activities.

He said a Conservation and Preservation Steering Committee was set up at the East Coast Economic Region Development Council meeting in March 2016 to identify the causes contributing to the deterioration of Tasik Chini and the steps taken to rectify the situation.

Among the responsibilities of the committee to protect Tasik Chini was to ensure mining activities were carried out responsibly and that forest conservation initiatives be conduc­ted through its reforestation programmes.

“Two operations have also been successfully implemented to protect the rich biodiversity in Tasik Chini by preventing intrusions and ensuring its water quality achieves Class 1 status by 2019,” he said.

“Monthly monitoring of its water quality has seen the majority of its stations achieving a Class 2 status and the return of marine life.”

Dr Wan Junaidi added that no logging licences had been issued.

“Up to now, there have only been two iron mines that are still active after being approved by the Pahang state government in 2010,” said Dr Wan Junaidi, adding that the mines were 5km away from Tasik Chini.

He also saidt the initiatives implemented by the ministry to preserve the area included the monitoring of the water quality of the lake, strengthening of the banks of the lake, and the preservation of plants by various authorities.

Read more!

Malaysia: Over 10,000 Baram folks cut off by floods

STEPHEN THEN The Star 27 Feb 17;

MIRI: More than 10,000 people from at least 15 longhouses as well as students from a school in the interior Baram district in northern Sarawak have been cut off due to floods.

Over the past 24 hours, heavy rains have inundated these populated settlements, resulting in metre-deep waters.

Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau visited the flooded areas on Monday to check on the relief aid supplies.

He told The Star that the affected settlements and school had been cut off after the timber roads became flooded.

"Among them are the settlements in Long Bedian, Long Atip, Long Tajang, Long Buan, Long Bemang, Long Loyang, Long Batan, Long Aton, Long Sobeng, SK Long Sobeng, Long Anyat, Long Luteng, Long Puak and Long Lama town.

"The students of SK Long Subeng have been evacuated to the nearest longhouse.

"The school have been closed as flood waters will reach the roof of the school building," he said.

Ngau has issued an alert for help from the state and federal authorities.

Limbang flood evacuees rise to 413, 17 schools closed
BERNAMA New Straits Times 28 Feb 17;

MIRI: The number of flood evacuees in Limbang, Sarawak, has increased to 413 people from 126 families as of 6am today. As of midnight, 410 evacuees from 125 families were still at the relief centre at Mendamit Community Hall in Nanga Mendamit.

Sarawak Disaster Management Committee Secretariat from the Civil Defence Force, Major Ismail Mahedin, said the evacuees were from Asan longhouse, Kampung Semena and Kampung Lubuk Lasas.

So far, 17 primary schools have been closed due to the floods in the state, thus affecting 1,337 pupils. -- Bernama

Read more!

Malaysia: Terengganu agriculture industry on alert for red weevil beetle infestation

ROSLI ZAKARIA New Straits Times 25 Feb 17;

KEMAMAN: State Agriculture Departments here have been directed to inspect all date palm and to destroy trees determined to be infested with red weevil beetles.

"This move is crucial, because red weevil beetles find a convenient host in date palm, and they are now attacking coconut trees," said Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek.

He said agriculture officers need to go to the ground to identify date palm trees to instruct owners to destroy the host trees, failing which, the department would have to act.

He also warned farmers against importing plants without going through the legal process, including undergoing strict quarantine procedures.

"We need to look at the threat posed by the red weevil beetle seriously. The future of our palm oil industry is at stake," Ahmad Shabery added.

Read more!

Indonesia: Whale shark dead after being caught up in trawl

Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 26 Feb 17;

A 6-meter whale shark weighing more than 1 ton got caught in the trawl of a fisherman in Selakau waters, Sambas regency, West Kalimantan, on Friday. Residents later cut the protected animal up and distributed the pieces.

Officers from Selakau Police and the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) questioned the fisherman, identified as Gustian, over the incident. He said the animal had accidentally become caught up in a trawl he had put out in waters around 20 kilometers off the shore. When he had discovered the shark in the net, Gustian claimed, it had already been dead.

Gustian, who had been out fishing with his son that day, said they had been unable to release the whale shark from the trawl, so he decided to pull it to the pier.

Gustian said he was not aware that whale sharks were a protected species. He said he did not know who had ordered the local residents to cut the shark into pieces and take them home.

Pictures of the whale shark went viral on social media, showing local residents, including children, crowded around the carcass of the animal on Selakau Beach.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia’s West Kalimantan program manager, Albert Tjiu, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday there had been no clear information on whether Selakau waters were the habitat of whale sharks. However, he said, a WWF researcher conducting a survey in the area had heard of a similar incident last year. (ebf)

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 26 Feb 17

Singapore, the Global Stronghold of the Straw-headed Bulbul
Singapore Bird Group

Short Walk At Punggol Park (22 Feb 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

NSS Kids’ Fun with Nature and Culture at Jalan Kubor Cemetery
Fun with Nature

First Naked walk at Chek Jawa in 2017
wild shores of singapore

Read more!

‘Turn the tide on plastic’ urges UN, as microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy

UNEP 23 Feb 17;

23 February 2017 – Launching an unprecedented global campaign, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is urging everyone to eliminate the use of microplastics and stop the excessive, wasteful use of single-use plastic, to save the world’s seas and oceans from irreversible damage before it’s too late.

“Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables,” Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UNEP, said in a news release announcing the campaign.

“We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop,” he added.

Through its Clean Seas campaign, the agency has urged countries and businesses to take ambitious measures to eliminate microplastics from personal-care products, ban or tax single-use plastic bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items by 2022.

Ten countries have already joined the initiative with far-reaching pledges: Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year; and Costa Rica will take measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education, according to UNEP.

These initiatives could not come sooner as up to 80 per cent of all litter in the oceans are made of plastic.

According to estimates, by 2050, 99 per cent of earth’s seabirds will have ingested plastic

An illustration of the sheer magnitude of the problem is that as much as 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – litter the seas.

Each year, more than eight million metric tonnes of plastic end up in oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and cost at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. According to estimates, by 2050, oceans will have more plastic than fish if present trends are not arrested.

According to UNEP actions to stem the growing tide of maritime litter could include reducing the use of single-use plastics at the individual level such as by using reusable shopping bags and water bottles, choosing products without microbeads and plastic packaging, and not using straws to drink.

“Whether we choose to use plastic bags at the grocery store or sip through a plastic straw, our seemingly small daily decisions to use plastics are having a dramatic effect on our oceans,” said film actor and founder of the Lonely Whale Foundation, Adrian Grenier.

Similarly, on larger and commercial scale, supply chains can be modified.

One such example is the technology company DELL Computers: which has announced that it will use recovered ocean plastic in its product packaging.

“DELL is committed to putting technology and expertise to work for a plastic-free ocean,” said its Vice President for Global Operations, Piyush Bhargava. “Our new supply chain brings us one step closer to UNEP’s vision of Clean Seas by proving that recycled ocean plastic can be commercially reused.”

According to UNEP, major announcements are also expected at the upcoming conference on The Ocean at the UN Headquarters in New York (5-9 June), and UN the Environment Assembly to be held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in December.

“The ocean is the lifeblood of our planet, yet we are poisoning it with millions of tonnes of plastic every year,” expressed Peter Thomson, the President of the UN General Assembly, highlighting the upcoming conference and urging for ambitious pledges to reduce single-use plastic.

“Be it a tax on plastic bags or a ban on microbeads in cosmetics, each country [can] do their bit to maintain the integrity of life in the Ocean.”

UN Declares War on Ocean Plastic
UN Environment launches major global #CleanSeas campaign to end marine litter
Ten countries are already on board, as well as DELL Computers, singer Jack Johnson, actor Adrian Grenier and media personality Nadya Hutagalung
More than 8 million tonnes of plastic leaks into the ocean each year – equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute
UNEP 23 Feb 17;

23 February 2017 – UN Environment launched today an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022.

Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, the #CleanSeas campaign is urging governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to our seas.

Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said, "It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop."

Throughout the year, the #CleanSeas campaign will be announcing ambitious measures by countries and businesses to eliminate microplastics from personal care products, ban or tax single-use bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items.

Ten countries have already joined the campaign with far-reaching pledges to turn the plastic tide. Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year and Costa Rica will take measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education.

Each year, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. Up to 80 per cent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic.

According to some estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

Media personality Nadya Hutagalung supports #CleanSeas by calling on the cosmetics industry to stop adding microplastics to their products. As many as 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – litter our seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife.

Singer-songwriter and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Jack Johnson pledged to engage with fans and encourage venues for his 2017 Summer Tour to reduce single-use plastics. Johnson is also promoting a new documentary The Smog of the Sea, which highlights the issue of microplastics permeating the world’s oceans.

"I support the Clean Seas campaign because I believe there are better alternatives to single-use disposable plastics, and that we as consumers can encourage innovation and ask businesses to take responsibility for the environmental impact of the products they produce," said Jack Johnson.

"We can all start today by making personal commitments to reduce plastic waste by carrying reusable shoppings bags and water bottles, saying no to straws and choosing products without microbeads and plastic packaging. We can also support the efforts of the emerging youth leaders around the world working for healthy and plastic free oceans."

Globally recognized brands are also joining the fight. DELL Computers unveiled today a commercial-scale supply chain using plastic which has been fished out of the sea near Haiti. The computer giant will use the recovered ocean plastic in its product packaging.

"DELL is committed to putting technology and expertise to work for a plastic-free ocean," said Dell's Vice President for Global Operations Piyush Bhargava. "Our new supply chain brings us one step closer to UN Environment's vision of Clean Seas by proving that recycled ocean plastic can be commercially re used."

All these actions will be crucial to stemming the tide of marine litter. Today, we are producing twenty times more plastic than in the 1960s. Around one third of all plastic is used for packaging. By 2050 our plastic production will have to grow three to four times to satisfy our demand. A large portion will end up in oceans where it will remain for centuries.

Actor Adrian Grenier, known for his role in hit TV show and film Entourage, and founder of Lonely Whale Foundation has joined the #CleanSeas campaign, asking people to re-think their daily choices.

"Whether we choose to use plastic bags at the grocery store or sip through a plastic straw, our seemingly small daily decisions to use plastics are having a dramatic effect on our oceans," said Adrian Grenier. "We have the power to effect change.

"Today I take this public pledge to do my part to refuse single use plastics, starting with the plastic straw, and also reaffirm my commitment to work with leaders such as Dell to reduce plastic packaging. If we start with one small change and hold each another accountable, I believe that together we can inspire global action for the health of our oceans."

Major announcements are expected during The Ocean Conference in New York at the UN Headquarters 5 – 9 June, and the December UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

Read more!

Five on Friday: 5 unusual natural world sightings in Singapore

In our regular light-hearted look at what has been making the headlines, Ramesh William recalls some other rare sightings apart from the "fire rainbow" that set tongues wagging this week.
Ramesh William Channel NewsAsia 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Folks on this sunny isle did not know what to make of a swirl of colours which emerged from behind some innocuous-looking clouds on Monday (Feb 20).

Was it a UFO? A sign from the heavens, perhaps?

Most people, however, just marvelled at a unique optical phenomenon known as a circumhorizontal arc, or - to the layman - a “fire rainbow”.

Looking suspiciously like a Tycho album cover (it would have been nice had it appeared during Laneway), people gave it all sorts of names from Paddle Pop rainbow to the Southern Lights.

Oh, the wit.

Speaking of optical phenomena, here are examples of the opposite: Sightings that are becoming familiar mainstays in various parts of the island to the point of boredom.

Rats (Bukit Batok), wild boars (Punggol), otters (Bishan, Marina Bay) and monitor lizards (no fixed abode) hardly elicit a second glance these days.

With that in mind, we thought we would go to the other end of the spectrum and showcase five rare natural world sightings that got us all in a tizzy.


Two for the price of one. It is a bargain few Singaporeans can resist. Which is why when a double rainbow appeared last September, many whipped out their phones and set social media alight.

The science: A double rainbow occurs when the light is reflected twice in a raindrop - leading to two different reflections, coming from different angles.

Believed by some cultures to be a sign of good fortune, double rainbows are not altogether once-in-a-blue-moon rare.

There was one in July 2015 and also during the auspicious Chinese New Year period this year. But still, rare enough to cause a stir.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on his Facebook fans to share their pics of the unique event during Chinese New Year festivities.


“If that’s a wild boar, why is it wearing diapers?” the driver asked, squinting.

“Erm, I dunno dear … maybe it has a weak bladder,” said her husband. “Taking precautions I guess. It’s so hard to find a loo around here.”

We will never know for sure if such a conversation took place along Changi Coastal Road on a balmy June night last year.

But one imagines it cannot be far from the incredulous chatter that would have occurred upon the sighting of a Malayan tapir - one that looked as if it was on a late-night mosey after a particularly heavy supper. Hey, we have all been there!

The Malayan tapir's biggest claim to fame in Singapore is that it is among the first animals you will see upon entering the zoo in Mandai (on the left, after the gift shop). And as for a sighting in the wild? Well, you would have to go back all the way to 1986 - on Pulau Ubin.

Forget the double rainbow, or even unicorns - this is a rare sighting. Goodness only knows when the last wild Malayan tapir made it to our mainland. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has said there are anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 left in Malaysia.

And then after a fleeting glimpse, the Changi Malayan tapir vanished. Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) said it most likely swam back to Malaysia.

Well, till next time then. Jumpa lagi.


Do not be fooled by its innocent sounding name. Waterspouts can do some real damage and the video above can attest to its might.

Thankfully not much mayhem (apart from getting people all uber-excited) was caused when a larger-than-usual version turned up off East Coast Park in August 2016.

According to the National Environment Agency, there is an average of three waterspout occurrences reported over Singapore waters every year.

Singapore’s thunderstorm-prone climate makes it all the more susceptible to waterspouts, but one as massive as this is extremely rare.

Still, if you are hanging about Bedok Jetty chasing fish and you see something similar heading your way, you best be on your skates sharpish.


An Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin spotted off St John's Island in August 2015.

Dolphins in captivity have been in the spotlight in recent years in Singapore, with questions asked about their living conditions.

So when footage or photos appear of dolphins freewheeling with joy off Singapore’s shores, it definitely calls for beers all round.

The Wild Singapore site has, over the years, blogged about dolphin sightings in the vicinity of the Southern Islands. Wild dolphins were sighted off Raffles Lighthouse in 2006, and off St John’s Island and off Sisters Island in 2007. Dolphins were also seen near Singapore’s landfill island Pulau Semakau in 2009.

The most recent sighting of wild dolphins was in August 2015 when four Indo-Pacific humpback pink dolphins were seen off St John’s Island. Joseph Chng, who spotted the dolphins while out at sea, said he had to perform an emergency stop to prevent his boat from running down the cute things.


Nov 14, 2016: A date that will live long in infamy. That was when the moon was at its closest to Earth in nearly 70 years.

Why infamy? Well, because the supermoon was a damp squib for many of us. Although the moon was 35,400km closer, cloud cover that night meant there was very little big lunar action to be had.

Yet, from photos that did emerge, we know that there were plenty who lucked out and managed to snag photos of the swollen moon - except that it was early the next morning.

Most of us were still in bed. I was quite exhausted after spending most of the previous evening like a demented maniac, opening my bedroom window, peering out and then shutting it again every 10 minutes or so.

Skygazers will not be able to see the moon this big again until Nov 25, 2034. At least there is some breathing space before we are all left disappointed again.

Read more!

Chestnut Nature Park, Singapore's largest, fully opens

Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: The northern portion of Chestnut Nature Park was opened on Saturday (Feb 25) - marking the completion of Singapore's largest nature park.

Together with the southern portion opened last year, the park now totals 81 hectares – nearly the size of the 82-ha Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Located near the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, the park is the first in Singapore to have separate hiking and mountain biking trails. With the opening of the northern portion, the park’s biking trail has been extended from 1.6km to 8.2km, while the hiking trail has been extended from 2.1km to 5.6km.

Hikers can trek directly from Chestnut Nature Park to Dairy Farm Nature Park, while mountain bikers have access to trails with different levels of difficulties, ranging from moderately difficult to extremely difficult. The park also has a pump track where cyclists can attempt stunts.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee officiated the opening of the park’s northern portion on Saturday morning and accompanied about 200 residents and volunteers on the hiking trail.

Mr Lee also announced that another two parks will be opened over the next two years. Windsor Nature Park, located near Upper Thomson Road, will open later this year, while Thomson Nature Park will open by end of next year.

"Nature parks are special and they play a unique role in our ‘City in a Garden’," said Mr Lee, adding that the parks provide opportunities for Singaporeans to experience biodiversity, and act as green buffers to protect the reserves from the impact of urbanisation.

- CNA/cy

Read more!

How do MRT train stations reduce the risk of flooding?

Underground MRT stations are built with entrances (or exits) that are raised to safeguard them from flooding. Tenders for flood barriers to be built at MRT stations were called in 2012.
Christopher Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Feb 17;

Like all underground structures here, MRT stations are built with entrances (or exits) that are raised. You will notice you need to climb a few steps before going down into a station. The same goes for road tunnels and underground carparks - a ramp is built just before the entrance and exit. This construction design safeguards the underground facility from flooding.

But in recent years, the weather has become more extreme. For example, on the afternoon of Dec 23, 2011, about 150mm of rain fell over Orchard Road - an amount usually received in a whole month. The incident damaged property along the shopping belt, including about 40 cars parked in underground carparks which became submerged.

In February 2012, the Land Transport Authority called tenders for flood barriers to be built at six MRT stations in town. In July 2012, tenders were called to fit similar barriers at 11 more stations deemed to be at risk. The barriers can withstand floodwaters of up to 1.5m high.

Today, flood barriers at 35 underground MRT stations have been completed across the network.

"With the completion of these works, all current and future MRT projects, including those on Downtown Line and Thomson-East Coast Line, will meet the requirements for flood protection as specified in PUB's Code of Practice for surface water drainage," the LTA said in a statement yesterday.

The attention to flood mitigation is a stark contrast to earlier pronouncements that Singapore was safe from the climate change effects.

Read more!

Indonesia targeting to reduce plastic waste by 70 percent

Antara 24 Feb 17;

Nusa Dua, Bali (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government aims to reduce 70 percent of the approximately nine million tons of the total plastic waste a year, as a contribution to protecting the environment.

"We have set such a target in our medium-term plan," Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya stated during a campaign against plastic waste as one of the side events of the "World Ocean Summit" in Samuh Beach, Nusa Dua, on Thursday.

Taking into the account the fact that 14 percent of the total 65 million tons of waste in Indonesia is plastic and has detrimental effects on the environment, Nurbaya has encouraged greater synergy between the central and local governments to uphold the same commitment of reducing plastic waste.

According to the minister, communities that work for environmental protection and preservation cannot do their duty optimally if there is no support and commitment from the government.

At the same time, the ministry is still discussing and evaluating the plan to continue imposing the tariff trial on using plastic bags, which was earlier implemented in shopping centers and modern shops.

Nurbaya pointed out that such a policy has indeed helped to significantly reduce plastic waste. However, the government should also take into account the aspirations and interests of the merchants, retailers, and producers of plastics.

At a discussion with some related stakeholders, the use of biodegradable plastic emerged as one of the best solutions.

While the businessmen are taking some time to carry out the packaging process, if the policy to reduce plastic is implemented, they can also seek another opportunity by recycling the plastic waste.

The total ban on the use of plastic bags will also have an effect on the social outlook, mainly because plastic bags can still be used in traditional markets.

"Hence, the government must be able to negotiate by discussing with several stakeholders," Nurbaya added.

Reported by Dewa Wiguna

Indonesia to reduce plastic wastes by 70 percent

Antara 23 Feb 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government is committed to reducing plastic wastes by 70 percent by the end of 2025, initiated with the launch of a national action plan for tackling plastic wastes in oceans.

Indonesia, along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has launched a campaign to remove plastic wastes in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday.

"By the end of 2025, we will reduce 70 percent of the plastic wastes. Indonesia has launched a national action plan for tackling marine plastic wastes," Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan stated in a press release received by ANTARA here, Thursday.

The national action plan contains concrete strategies and measures to handle plastic wastes on land, in coastal areas, and in the sea.

"The government will provide funding of up to US$1 billion per year to implement the strategy," he noted.

According to Panjaitan, the financial support will significantly contribute to implementing the national program to make Indonesia free of wastes.

He said that marine plastic wastes pose a threat to the existence of fish, mammals, sea birds, and coral reefs in the world.

"Those negatively affected by the wastes are the locals, as tourists will not visit places that are full of plastic wastes," he remarked.

Panjaitan pointed out that Indonesia has been successful in its campaign against fish poachers and armed pirates. The government is now ready to face the challenge of tackling marine plastic debris.

"We are more than ready to play an active role in handling marine plastic wastes and be at the forefront of the UN global campaign for cleaning the seas," he emphasized.

The launch event was attended by Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya and UNEP Director Erik Solheim.(*)

Indonesia to Reduce Plastic Waste 70% by 2025
Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 24 Feb 17;

Jakarta. The government has set a target to reduce plastic waste by 70 percent to preserve the environment.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said Indonesia's generates up to 65 million tons of waste annually, with 14 percent, or 9 million tons, of it consisting of plastic.

"Therefore, we are pushing for cooperation between local administrations and the national government to commit to the target, and to create awareness of the impact plastic waste has on the environment," Siti said in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday (23/02).

Local governments play a vital role, she added, as the community will not take heed if there are no consistent efforts set as example by governments.

"It's hard to get local governments to work if the central government is inconsistent and provides no guidelines," she added.

The commitment had also been followed by Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Panjaitan, who said the target is set to be accomplished by 2025.

"The government will provide a budget of up to $1 billion annually to execute the strategy," Luhut told to Antara news agency.

The strategy is part of the national action plan for waste management in oceans, in conjunction with the United Nations Environmental Program.

Luhut said plastic waste is threatening fisheries and coral reefs all over the world, and that it also endangers marine tourism in Indonesia.

"The ones who are affected by this are local residents, because tourists won't come back to plastic-contaminated destinations," he said.

Saving ocean requires global effort, cooperation
I Wayan Juniarta The Jakarta Post 23 Feb 17;

The opening panel of the World Ocean Summit on Thursday morning saw three ministers and a senior-ranking European Commission official acknowledge that harnessing the potential of the ocean and protecting it for the future generations are tasks too big and complex for any single country to deal with.

The panel, titled “The ocean economy—A whale of an opportunity?”, featured Indonesia’s Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, Bangladesh’s Minister of Environment and Forests Anwar Hossain Manju, Portugal’s Minister of Sea Ana Paula Vitorino, and European Commission’s Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella with The Economist’s Asia columnist, Dominic Ziegler, moderating.

Luhut used plastic debris as an example of the complexities of the ocean problem and the necessity to mount a concerted, global response. He pointed out during his visit to the western part of Indonesia he encountered plastic debris originating from Singapore.

“I believe that some of the plastic debris from Indonesia have washed ashore in Australia. So we have to deal with this problem together,” he said.

Read also: Government orders another study into Benoa Bay reclamation project:

Vella summed the shared sentiment among the speakers when he said that “the way forward now is cooperating globally.”

"We are not talking about [a] European environment, Chinese environment, we have one global environment with the global solution and you have to take […] global action,” he said.

The speakers also called all stakeholders to allocate greater resources to educate and promote environmental-friendly entrepreneurship among the younger generation. (yan)

Indonesia pledges $1bn a year to curb ocean waste
Only China dumps more plastic in the ocean than Indonesia. But by 2025, the world’s largest archipelago aims to reduce marine waste by 70%
Johnny Langenheim The Guardian 2 Mar 17;

Indonesia has pledged up to $1bn a year to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic and other waste products polluting its waters. The announcement was made by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs at last week’s 2017 World Oceans Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali.

Pandjaitan told delegates at the conference that Indonesia would achieve a 70% reduction in marine waste within eight years. He proposed developing new industries that use biodegradable materials such as cassava and seaweed to produce plastic alternatives. Other measures could include a nationwide tax on plastic bags as well as a sustained public education campaign.

The World Bank estimates that each of Indonesia’s 250 million inhabitants is responsible for between 0.8 and 1kg of plastic waste per annum. Only China dumps more waste in the ocean, according to a 2015 report in the journal Science.

The world’s second biggest plastic polluter also boasts the world’s highest levels of marine biodiversity. Indonesia lies at the heart of the Coral Triangle; its incredibly rich coral reef ecosystems support crucial fisheries, provide food security for millions and are a growing draw for tourists.

Plastic pollution is just one of the threats to these ecosystems services, but it’s a serious one. A recent study suggests that by 2050, there could be more plastic than biomass in the world’s oceans. Plastics have entered the marine food chain and are already reaching our dinner plates.

Indonesia’s commitment is part of the UN’s new Clean Seas campaign, which aims to tackle consumer plastics through a range of actions – from cutting down on single use plastics such as shopping bags and coffee cups to pressuring firms to cut down on plastic packaging. Nine countries have already joined Indonesia in signing up to the campaign, including Uruguay, which will impose a tax on single use plastic bags and Costa Rica, which is promising better waste management and education.

But Indonesia’s target of a 70% reduction by 2025 is ambitious. Across the country’s 17,000 islands there is poor public understanding of the problems created by plastic waste.

Companies produce small scale products such as single use shampoo packets and confectionery that are popular in communities where cash flow pressures and habit prevent more sustainable consumption. Add poor waste management infrastructure and the scale of the challenge comes into sharp focus.

During rainy season, thousands of tonnes of rubbish discarded in rivers and waterways washes up on Indonesia’s shores. Heavy machinery is often brought in to clear the tourist beaches of Bali and local communities and non-profits are constantly organising large scale beach clean ups.

Last year, a tax on single use plastic bags was trialed in 23 cities across Indonesia. While the government reported a big reduction in plastic bag use, there was significant resistance both from consumers and industry, according to Siti Nurbaya, Indonesia’s minister for the environment. This is delaying a bill to impose a nationwide tax of not less than Rp.200 (1p) per plastic bag.

Environmentalists will be hoping that the promised funding effectively channels resources and expertise into public awareness and education programmes, improvements in waste management, pressure on industry and initiatives that encourage alternatives to plastic packaging.

The UN campaign reminds us all, however, that plastic pollution is a problems we can all address with some very simple changes in behaviour.

Read more!

Indonesia: $23m for Bird's Head Seascape Conservation

Dion Bisara Jakarta Globe 25 Feb 17;

Jakarta. Global conservation organizations, the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund, and Indonesia government announced on Friday (24/02) that they have raised $23 million for Blue Abadi Fund, a marine conservation trust, to protect the Bird's Head Peninsula in West Papua.

The Blue Abadi Fund aims to provide grants to local communities and agencies that manage 12 protected areas across the peninsula — 3.6 million hectares neighboring with Cenderawasih Bay in in the west and Raja Ampat Islands in the east — to implement sustainable management practices, including ecological and social monitoring and community outreach.

"These protected areas still exist thanks to the support and involvement of the local communities and fishermen," said Rob Walton of the Walton Family Foundation, one of the fund's main supporters, who has been working in the Bird's Head region for more than a decade.

Other donors include the Global Environment Facility, MacArthur Foundation, and USAID.

"Of course, it is not enough to create protected areas, you have to have long-term management and enforcement. That is what the Blue Abadi Fund is all about," Walton said in a statement.

The Bird's Head contains more than 2,500 islands and reefs that are home to 600 species of corals and 1,765 species of fish, 70 of which are endemic to the region.

In 2004, Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund launched a coalition aiming for sustainable management of the Bird's Head.

"The future of our planet depends upon the wisdom of communities," said Peter Seligmann, chairman and chief executive of Conservation International.

"Through the Blue Abadi Fund, the global community joins with local communities to secure the long-term health of the Bird's Head seascape, arguably the most diverse marine region of planet Earth."

Indonesia raises US$23 million to conserve Bird’s Head Seascape
Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 24 Feb 17;

Indonesia’s bid to protect its marine areas has gained support in the form of a US$23 million investment in the Blue Abadi Fund, which is on track to be the world’s largest marine conservation trust, designed to conserve the country’s Bird’s Head Seascape.

The support was announced by Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and the Indonesian government at the World Ocean Summit in Bali on Friday.

The Bird’s Head Seascape is the global epicenter of marine biodiversity, encompassing more than 225,000 square kilometers in West Papua, Indonesia, and home to more than 70 species of reef fishes, corals and crustaceans found nowhere else on the planet.

The announcement comes just five months after the fund initiative was introduced. Once the fund is fully capitalized, the seascape will contain Indonesia’s first sustainably financed marine protected area network (MPAs).

The Blue Abadi Fund will help secure the long-term financial sustainability of the Bird’s Head Seascape by providing grants to local communities and agencies so they can sustainably manage their marine resources into the future.

“The future of our planet depends upon the wisdom of communities,” said Peter Seligmann, chairman and CEO of Conservation International. “Through the Blue Abadi Fund the global community joins with local communities to secure the long-term health of the Bird's Head seascape, arguably the most diverse marine region of Planet Earth.” (ary)

Read more!

'Significant event': Coral bleaching returns to the Great Barrier Reef

Peter Hannam Sydney Morning Herald 25 Feb 17;

Parts of the Great Barrier Reef are enduring sustained periods of heat stress worse than at the same time during last year's record-breaking coral bleaching event, raising fears the natural wonder may suffer another hammering.

Some 54 checks by the reef's Marine Park Authority off Mission Beach, about midway between Cairns and Townsville, found 60 per cent of sensitive coral species were already bleaching after 12 months of sustained abnormally warm temperatures.

"There's enough bleaching there to tell us that it is a significant heat-stress event," Russell Reichelt, the authority's chairman, said on Saturday. "There's the risk there of widespread bleaching leading to further mortality."

The World Heritage-listed reef last year suffered its worst bleaching event on record, with northern regions losing as much as 80 per cent of corals.

Many of the big tourist sites were spared the worst of the bleaching or recovered quickly, but this year the heat stress is closer to Cairns and other popular sites, as Fairfax Media reported earlier this month.

"It's the first time we've been getting a big bleaching event two years in a row," said Richard Fitzpatrick, an Emmy Award-winning underwater cameraman, who recently returned from Vlasoff Reef, north-east of Cairns.

The bleaching is evident at places where Mr Fitzpatrick filmed sequences for the Great Barrier Reef series led by David Attenborough, the UK naturalist.

"We've started to see the first mortality," Mr Fitzpatrick said.

If waters stay too warm for too long, corals expel the zooxanthellae algae living in their tissues that provide as much as 90 per cent of the energy they need to grow and reproduce. . The corals then bleach and face increased risks of disease, and those that survive can take years to recover.


Dr Reichelt said the authority would survey other parts of the reef to see how far bleaching has spread.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies is also preparing to repeat aerial surveys of last year to monitor changes, Terry Hughes, the Townsville-based centre's director, said.

"The 2017 bleaching is still building as we approach the summer peak temperature," Professor Hughes said. "Hopefully, it won't be nearly as bad as last year."

"It's alarming that the reef is bleaching so soon again, giving no time for recovery from the huge losses of corals in the northern third of the Reef in 2016," he said. "The scary part is that 2017 is not an El Nino year – and the period between these bleaching events is getting shorter, too short for recovery."

Imogen Zethoven, campaign director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said "we are running out of time" to save the reef, particularly from climate change.

Ms Zethoven singled out on-going support for the Adani-owned Carmichael coal mine that, over a projected 60-year life, would result in 4.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, adding to global warming.

"There's an imminent risk of another severe bleaching event," she said. "There is no hint from the federal government that they are responding to this as a national emergency."

'Natural wonder'

Josh Frydenberg, the federal energy and environment minister, dismissed the threat to the reef from the Carmichael mine, highlighting its location rather than the emissions burning its output will produce.

"If you're talking about Adani, that's 300 kilometres inland," Mr Frydenberg told ABC Radio on Friday. "We are concerned about increased heat stress on the reef, but we are making real progress at a state and a federal level to combine our efforts to improve the health of the reef which is a beautiful natural wonder of the world."

He cited Australia signing up to the Paris climate agreement - with the country pledging to slice 2005-levels of pollution 26-28 per cent by 2030 - the 2020 Renewable Energy Target, and the Reef 2050 Plan.

However, Mark Butler, Labor's climate spokesman, said the government's own data showed Australia's carbon emissions "rising as far as projections go to 2030".

"Nothing short of real strong action, both around the reef and nationally to tackle climate change, will do," he said, noting as many as 70,000 jobs relied on tourism in the region. "That is not what we've seen after over three years of Liberal government."

Read more!

Corals May Get Temporary Reprieve from Bleaching

Climate models show the absence of a global atmospheric circulation pattern which bolsters high ocean temperatures key to coral bleaching
Brittany Patterson, E&E News Scientific American 24 Feb 17;

The world's coral reefs, which have been hit hard by an unprecedented bleaching event that began in mid-2014, may see a bit of reprieve this year, according to an official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mark Eakin, head of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program, said the "longest, most widespread bleaching event ever" has continued into 2017. However, climate models show the absence of a global atmospheric circulation pattern or ENSO — those include El Niños and La Niñas — which would bolster high ocean temperatures key to coral bleaching. Without an ENSO event, fewer corals are expected to die.

"The good news is as far as we can tell, the worst of this global event is over," he said. "The unfortunate part is we're not finished yet."

The world's corals may not be out of the woods yet. Eakin said it also appears ocean conditions may have entered what could be a "new regime" in which persistent coral bleaching — when corals expel the algae that are key to their survival from inside their tissue and turn white — is the new normal.
"The strange part is we finished with the El Niño; we even finished with the La Niña, but now we're continuing to see this bleaching going on even when we're back in neutral ENSO conditions," he said. "And it even looks like for the Pacific, for the coming months, we're going to be showing El Niño-like threats to coral reefs."

Eakin said the "unusual situation" seems to be driven by the fact that the oceans are still full of warm water, which has accumulated over the past years, the warmest on record. That warming is being driven primarily by human-caused climate change.

"We're really entered into a new regime where the waters are just warmer, and we may have hit this threshold for corals to bleach that's just the new baseline," he said. "We may be moving into a new period where bleaching is going to be very different than what we have seen in the past."

All of the coral reefs in the world were stressed by the warm ocean conditions of the last few years. More than 40 percent of reefs worldwide experienced bleaching or death.

In 2014, reefs in Guam, Hawaii and the Marshall Islands were hit. The next year, Hawaii was hit again, and the bleaching spread across the Red Sea, into the central Pacific Ocean and into Australia.

In 2016, Eakin said, the event came to full force. Scientists famously declared wide swaths of the Great Barrier Reef dead, while places like Kiribati saw 80 to 95 percent mortality of their corals.

In addition, 72 percent of coral reefs in the United States experienced bleaching or death.

"We were hoping 2016 would be the end of this event; unfortunately, that's not the case," he said.

Already, Australian officials have reported coral mortality across the central part of the Great Barrier Reef, and the South Pacific island of Niue has experienced a severe bleaching event.

Eakin, speaking yesterday to the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, an interagency group that leads efforts to protect U.S. coral reef ecosystems, highlighted that NOAA, in addition to other partners, since 2013 has been developing climate adaptation tools for coral reef managers. In 2015, a nursery in Hawaii went out and collected corals to protect them before a bleaching event hit the region, for example. Other regions are experimenting with coral plantings, shading and other adaptation efforts, with more in the works.

One key to protecting coral reefs is reducing local stressors, such as boat traffic and pollution runoff. Strategies to do that and adapt in the face of climate change are both ongoing efforts, Eakin added. Climate change further complicates the process.

"The real challenge is we have to be dealing with those local stressors that make bleaching events worse and make it harder to recover, and then we have to be dealing with [the] main problem here [which] is [that the] rise of heat-trapping carbon dioxide gases is warming the world," he said.

Reprinted from Climatewire by E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 24 Feb 17

Revisiting rainwater harvesting in Singapore
Water Quality in Singapore

Creating a Liveable Singapore: Kampong Spirit 2.0
IPS Common

5 March: Sustainability Sunday at Serangoon Gardens
Green Drinks Singapore

Read more!

Last islanders likely to get to remain on St John's Island

Plan to uproot them sparks dismay among public leading to Govt reviewing the move
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times 23 Feb 17;

The last few occupants of St John's Island, who had been asked to leave by this year, may be spending their twilight years on the island after all.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which is taking over the state land from managing agent Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) on March 1, told The Straits Times it is "working out an arrangement" with the ageing islanders.

A Straits Times article in December
, which reported that SDC senior support assistants, Madam Fauziyah Wakiman, 65, and Mr Supar Saman, 67, would retire to the mainland in the lead-up to the corporation handing over management of the island, sparked dismay among the public.

The duo have lived on the quiet island south of Singapore for decades.

Mr Sulih and his home on the island. St John's was where he was born 71 years ago, grew up and got married. He retired as one of the island's caretakers in 2010 and is one of only four occupants there.

People saw their fate as the loss of a bygone way of life and asked if it was necessary to uproot the couples.

In its response yesterday, SLA noted that the islanders had lived and worked on the island for many years, and had expressed their desire to continue living there.

SLA's spokesman said: "We are supportive of their request as they have volunteered to continue contributing to the islands where they can and we are working out an arrangement with them."

The islanders, who were in the process of moving out, welcomed the news.

Mr Supar said he was "happy".

Madam Fauziyah's husband, Mr Mohamed Sulih, 71, who was born, raised and married on the island, said: "I'm of course very happy.

"I've moved half my belongings to Singapore but I'm glad that they changed their minds."

SDC, which oversees maintenance of the island and "on-site guest support", had said in December last year that it provided staff living quarters on the island so the two employees would not have to travel back and forth between the island and the mainland.

The Straits Times understands they will get to continue living in these quarters, and that the matter of an allowance is being discussed.

Among those who had pleaded for the islanders were members of Singapore's heritage community.

Said heritage enthusiast and freelance writer, Mr Marcus Ng, 41, who is a frequent island visitor: "The islanders can share with visitors the island's history and how it has changed over the years as first-hand witnesses.

"This is not something you can get from reading a book or an article."

The island has served as a quarantine station for cholera patients, a holding site for political prisoners and secret-society ringleaders, and a drug rehabilitation centre.

Over the decades, staff at these centres had lived on the island, although most had left by 1975, said Mr Sulih.

• Additional reporting by Seow Bei Yi

Read more!

Singapore scientists, volunteers monitor seagrass health

The Straits Times 24 Feb 17;

Apart from being a source of food for herbivores, seagrass meadows are nurseries for juvenile animals such as crabs, shrimps and fishes. The structural complexity of seagrasses makes seagrass meadows areas of rich marine biodiversity.

There are a total of 12 species of seagrasses in Singapore, out of 23 in the Indo-Pacific region, and their habitats can be found both on the northern and southern shores of the island.

Animals associated with seagrass habitats include sea stars, seahorses, crabs, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and snails. TeamSeagrass, a group of volunteers, conducts frequent seagrass monitoring at six locations - Chek Jawa, Pulau Semakau, Cyrene Reef, Sentosa, Labrador Beach and Tuas. The information collected is shared with Seagrass-Watch, an international monitoring programme for seagrasses.

Like much of the country's natural heritage, seagrass meadows have been in decline for decades, with around 40 per cent of the original cover lost to coastal development. Since 2007, scientists and volunteers have regularly monitored them for their health.

A three-year research project, which ends in the middle of next year, intends to better understand the dispersal patterns of seagrasses, in addition to assessing how resilient they are in the face of various stressors.

Source: National Parks Board

Read more!

Disrupting the disruptors: Singapore rattles sharing economy with rule change

Fathin Ungku and Jeremy Wagstaff Reuters 23 Feb 17;

Singapore, a keen early adopter of the sharing economy, has fired a warning shot across the bow of Airbnb and Uber with tighter rules that could shake up their business models and growth ambitions in Asia.

The rules, some say, are a sign that even governments sympathetic to companies that allow citizens to rent out their expertise or property have a hard time striking the right balance between encouraging disruptive technologies and keeping them in line.

"I know a lot of people will give back their keys, that's for sure," said Lionel Ong, 33, an Uber driver, who wants to look for a less demanding part time job.

As its traditional manufacturing industry has hollowed out in the past decade or so, the affluent city-state has been quick to embrace opportunities in the digital economy, hosting the Asian headquarters of Airbnb and Uber, inviting its executives to conferences and investing in Uber's regional rival Grab through a unit of its investment arm for Temasek.

It’s too early to say what impact the new rules would have on Uber and Airbnb, but they highlight increasing scrutiny by regulators globally and growth challenges facing these new economy businesses.

April Rinne, an expert on the sharing economy who has advised companies and governments, including Singapore, says the city state's case mirrors other early adopter countries like Denmark, where legislators are mulling laws which would require taxis to have seat sensors, video surveillance and taxi meters.

"It’s a watershed that should also sound warning bells," Rinne said.

Singapore's new rules, passed this month, will be implemented in stages from the second half of this year. They allow officials to suspend a ride-sharing company for up to a month after three or more instances of their drivers getting caught without a proper license or insurance. The drivers themselves face fines and jail.

In the case of Airbnb, officials will have the right to force their way into homes to check whether residents were renting them out illegally, adding teeth to a rarely enforced law which bans the renting out of private property for less than six months.


The sharing economy business is billed for explosive growth, estimated by PricewaterhouseCoopers to reach $335 billion by 2025, from around $15 billion in 2016.

So there’s a lot at stake for companies. And the worry, says Adrian Lee, who runs a car-sharing service called Tribecar in Singapore, is that other markets might ape the city state's stance.

“I'm afraid other legislators may take a leaf from our play book without allowing these services to get to critical mass."

Singapore had been one of the few bright spots in Asia for Uber, which has been facing legal scrutiny in many markets across the region. Uber has suspended its service in Taiwan and has withdrawn from China after selling its business there. And in South Korea and Japan, authorities have limited its operations.

Jean Chia, a Singapore-based academic who studies the sharing economy, says since short-term renters "were previously operating in a gray area", the tighter regulations raise some immediate questions around the business model of Airbnb.

Airbnb's director of public policy in Asia Pacific, Mike Orgill, echoed those concerns, saying there are “thousands of people earning supplemental income … so the lack of clarity is of concern for hosts."

Drivers of Uber and Grab said a requirement for all drivers to obtain a vocational license would force out a lot of part-time drivers, while the threat of fines and even jail would deter others.

There is no comparable measure in "the more than 450 cities we operate in," Uber's Singapore general manager Warren Tseng said of the rule change, warning it would affect tens of thousands of drivers and "hundreds of thousands of commuters."

Uber's strong regional rival Grab, which is planning to invest $700 million in Indonesia, one of Asia's biggest markets, is more sanguine about the new laws.

Grab's country head Kell Jay Lim said though the company expects some drop-off after the regulations kick in, the rules showed that Singapore was now absorbing the sharing economy into the mainstream.

"It's a stamp of approval of what we're trying to do.”

(Reporting By Jeremy Wagstaff; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

Read more!

Numbers of endangered bulbuls show slight rebound on Pulau Ubin

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — While their counterparts in the region have been hunted relentlessly for the caged-bird trade, at least 202 Straw-headed bulbuls have found a safe home in Singapore and have grown in numbers on Pulau Ubin.

The population of the endangered songbird species on the island grew at nearly 4 per cent per year over the past 15 years to at least 110, while numbers on the mainland have held steady.

These findings by six Singaporean birdwatchers were published recently in the journal Bird Conservation International.

The bird’s conservation status was raised last December from “vulnerable” to “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which classifies species at high risk of global extinction.

With the global population of the bird estimated at 600 to 1,700 individuals, the group in Singapore may easily comprise up to one-third of the world’s remaining wild Straw-headed bulbuls.

The authors added that the estimate of 202 is likely to be conservative, given that surveys of Singapore’s western catchment area were not comprehensive due to limited access.

Mr Yong Ding Li, a PhD student at Australian National University, who led the study, said: “Across much of South-east Asia, the Straw-headed bulbul has been relentlessly trapped from the wild to be later sold in the bird markets of Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia.

“The bird has gone extinct in Thailand and parts of Indonesia where it used to be found, including the whole island of Java. It has also declined across Malaysia.”

In contrast, new sites for the bulbul have been discovered here recently.

Co-author Ho Hua Chew, who is also vice-chair of the conservation committee at Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS), said: “The bulbul is found in pockets of woodland such as Pulau Ubin, Bukit Brown and Khatib Bongsu. More should be done to protect such places, which are currently outside the existing reserves.

“Other biodiversity could also benefit from the conservation actions targeting the bulbul.”

The study’s other authors are brothers Lim Kim Seng and Lim Kim Chuah, Ms Trixie Tan and Mr Teo Siyang.

The study made use of more than 15 years’ data of the NSS’ Annual Bird Census and the authors paid tribute to such regular surveys and the support of volunteers.

Mr Lim Kim Seng, the society’s coordinator of the annual census, said that citizen science efforts to monitor wild bird populations in Singapore have been led by the NSS’ Bird Group since 1986.

“On a predetermined morning, scores of enthusiastic members will sacrifice sleep to be out in the wild at their assigned sites, counting the birds for the census,” he said.

“Over the past two decades, these censuses have allowed us to track population trends of threatened species such as the globally endangered Straw-headed bulbul.”

While encroachment and trapping pressures are lower in Singapore than elsewhere in South-east Asia, the authors said that some pressures exist in the form of habitat loss — the bird has been found in areas of unprotected secondary woodland that were later cleared.

Potentially invasive bird species such as the White-crested laughingthrush may also compete with the bulbul for food, and the population in Singapore may be vulnerable to inbreeding and diseases, they said.

The authors called for a species recovery plan coordinated by stakeholders across Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. In Singapore, the authorities could work with non-governmental organisations and zoos to designate the Straw-headed bulbul a flagship species for conservation since it is “easy to identify by amateur naturalists”.

Read more!

Cost of operating Singapore’s water system more than doubled from 2000 to 2015: PUB

Lianne Chia Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: In 2000, it cost half a billion dollars to operate Singapore’s water system. But by 2015, the amount had gone up to S$1.3 billion, national water agency PUB said on Thursday (Feb 23).

In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, a PUB spokesperson said that the amount includes water treatment, reservoir operations, NEWater production, desalination, used water collection and treatment, and the maintenance of the islandwide network of water pipelines.

In this year’s Budget statement, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that water prices would increase by 30 per cent in two phases over the next two years. This is the first time in 17 years that the Government is revising water prices.

In his speech, Mr Heng added that water prices need to reflect the rising costs associated with supplying water.

PUB said that this includes costs like chemicals, materials and manpower. As Singapore develops and operates its water supply system in an increasingly urbanised environment, more expensive methods of development are also needed, it added.

“For example, laying pipelines in built-up areas requires a more expensive method of pipe-jacking as compared to a conventional open cut method,” said PUB.

Furthermore, since the last water price revision in 2000, it has had to deal with rising resource costs and more expensive methods of development. Major investments were also made in water infrastructure.

PUB said it invested a total of about S$7 billion in water infrastructure from 2000 to 2015.

But in the next five years alone, from 2017 to 2021, its investment will be about S$4 billion.

“This is to meet growing demand and to boost the resilience of the water system, especially to face the challenges posed by climate change,” it said.

- CNA/lc

Operating cost of water system jumped S$0.8b in 15 years
Today Online 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — It cost about S$1.3 billion to operate Singapore’s water system in 2015, compared with S$0.5 billion in 2000, national water agency PUB has disclosed.

Over those 15 years, it invested about S$7 billion in water infrastructure, and will pump in about S$4 billion over the next five years from 2017 to 2021 to boost the infrastructure and resilience of the water system to meet growing demand.

The agency shared these figures in response to TODAY’s queries on how it determined the 30 per cent hike in water price that was announced in the Budget statement on Monday.

The increase includes all the components of the total water price, namely the water tariff, the water conservation tax and used water charges.

PUB said that in 2015, the S$1.3 billion was spent on water treatment, reservoir operations, NEWater production, desalination, used water collection and treatment, and the maintenance of the island-wide network of water pipelines, among others.

“Over the last 17 years, costs have increased and adjustments are needed to reflect the latest costs of water supply. The increase in water price will also allow us to continue investing ahead of time so all of us can continue to enjoy a high quality and reliable water supply,” a PUB spokesperson said.

Water is priced to reflect the cost of water supply and the scarcity value of water, PUB said.

The total water price is pegged to the long-run marginal cost of water supply — or how much it costs to supply and convey the next drop of water, which is likely from desalination and NEWater.

Speaking at Channel NewsAsia’s Singapore Budget Forum yesterday, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said that he understands the public’s concerns over the price hike, but added that “there is never an ideal time” to raise prices. He highlighted that “water for us is a matter of national survival ... of strategic importance”.

Water prices will go up by July next year, and a partial increase will take effect on July 1 this year. From S$2.10 per cubic metre, domestic users will pay S$2.39 from July 1, and S$2.74 a year later.

Mr Wong said the Government would give out Goods and Services Tax vouchers to help households offset the increases.

“We are mindful that everyone may be in different circumstances and even the rebates might not be enough for some, so we will look at different ways to help them … There is a range of local financial assistance schemes, including through ComCare, that we can provide for those in need,” he said.

Never an ideal time for water price hike: Lawrence Wong
Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong has said he understands the concerns that many people have over the water price increase, but "there is never an ideal time" for a rise.

Speaking at Channel NewsAsia's Singapore Budget Forum which was broadcast on Thursday (Feb 23), Mr Wong said the Government had deliberated this very carefully.

“There are indeed concerns about our supply including the state of Linggiu reservoir. So when you look at the overall situation and bearing in mind that water for us is a matter of national survival, it’s a matter of strategic importance, we felt that we have to make the increase now,” he explained.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had announced during his Budget speech on Monday that water prices will be increased by 30 per cent in two phases starting Jul 1. The increase will be less than S$25 a month for three-quarters of businesses, and less than S$18 for 75 per cent of households, once fully phased in.

Highlighting that the Government will be giving out GST vouchers to help households offset the increases in water prices, Mr Wong said there are other schemes to help families in exceptionally difficult circumstances.

“We are mindful that everyone may be in different circumstances and even the rebates might not be enough for some, so we will look at different ways to help them … There is a range of local financial assistance schemes, including through ComCare, that we can provide for those in need," he said.


Mr Wong also addressed business concerns about potential cost increases on manufacturing arising from a carbon tax to be implemented from 2019. “We are very mindful of this and that’s why we are not the first to have a carbon price or a carbon tax. We have looked at other jurisdictions and we are starting with a carbon tax in the range of what other jurisdictions are doing,” he said.

Japan, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland are among those reported to have implemented a carbon tax. Singapore would be the first country in Southeast Asia to do so.

Mr Wong said what is more important is for the carbon tax to shape businesses models and investment decisions for companies, especially those in the power and petrochemicals sectors. For instance, businesses could consider investing in less carbon intensive and more energy efficient forms of technology.

Mr Wong highlighted the importance of tackling climate change and keeping to Singapore’s international commitments. “We made a pledge and in Singapore, when we make a pledge we follow through on the pledge, so this is our way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and doing our part to fight climate change.”

Singapore signed the Paris Agreement in 2016 along with nearly 200 other countries. It is the most comprehensive climate change agreement, which set a target to cut emissions intensity by 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.


Mr Wong also touched on another announcement of concern for businesses and Singaporeans - the possibility of an increase in taxes in the future.

“We don’t overspend and leave a debt for future generations to bear - that has not been our philosophy … our philosophy in Singapore has always been that we work hard so that our next generation can have a better life," he said. "So I think it’s our responsibility to now start thinking about where the revenue streams are that can help cover all these increases in expenses. We will make a decision in good time.”

But Mr Wong also pointed out the importance of remaining competitive. He said: “Whatever we do, (we have to) make sure we still keep our economy competitive and dynamic. If we can grow and create jobs, we can also provide the resources to ensure that all Singaporeans benefit.”

Speaking on the programme, Maybank Kim Eng Research senior economist Chua Hak Bin agreed that there are challenges in ensuring a sustainable fiscal position. “It’s interesting that the tax review is taking place at the same time there is competition from the rest of the world. Thailand has cut its (corporate income) tax rate to 20 per cent. Indonesia and the US are contemplating cutting (corporate income) taxes to 15 per cent.”

Mr Wong agreed, but pointed out that tax incentives are not the only tools in Singapore’s arsenal to attract investments and foreign companies: “Tax is not the only lever we have in competition … it’s a wrap around strategy, where you provide land, training, logistics for companies and I think that is what we are good at.”

- CNA/sl

Water price hike a key concern at post-Budget forum
FARIS MOKHTAR Today Online 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — The impending increase in water prices was a key issue raised at a post-Budget forum yesterday, with participants voicing concerns over whether rebates would help to mitigate the higher costs, as well as the trickle-down effect that the hikes would have on prices of other goods, such as coffee and tea.

Attended by about 120 members of the public, the forum — organised by public feedback unit Reach — was the first such exercise held since the Budget was unveiled on Monday.

Since the Budget statement was delivered, REACH has received more than 1,000 items of feedback through its platforms, with the top three concerns raised being the water price hike, support for young families and the personal income tax rebate.

Taking the first three questions from the participants who touched on the water price hike, before the session was closed to the media, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah, who chaired the session, reassured them that the U-Save (Utilities-Save) rebates, which the Government will be giving out, would lessen the cost burden on households.

She noted that those living in one- and two-room flats will not, on average, see any increase in their monthly water bills, while families staying in three-room flats and above will see, on average, an increase of about S$2 to S$11 in their monthly water charges.

Announcing the Budget on Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said water prices will rise by 30 per cent from July 2018, with the first of two rounds of water price hikes to kick in this July.

Addressing the trickle-down effect that the water price increase would have on the cost of other goods such as coffee and tea, Ms Indranee stressed that the cost of such goods “should not and ought not” go up.

She noted that, currently, firms are charged S$2.15 per cubic litre for the portable water that they use, and after the full water price hike kicks in next year, this will go up to S$2.74 cents, an increase of 59 cents. This, she added, would have very minimal impact on the price of coffee and tea.

Speaking to reporters, Ms Indranee said that there is a need to price water based on market realities, to take into account the cost of producing water, such as manpower and infrastructure cost.

“When you get the right pricing and you just charge that completely down the line, obviously there will be people who are affected and who may not be able to afford it,” said Ms Indranee.

“So, what you do is you step in, you intervene and you assist, which we have in this case done with the U-Save rebates.”

However, some participants, such as 65-year-old retiree Teo Yeok Tee maintained that it is unfair to impose an increase across the board on the basis of wanting to encourage water conservation because there are households which do conserve water.

Others, such as Madam Chen Li Ying, 49, agreed with the move which would help to ensure a sustainable supply of water.

“But I think the Government could spread out the increase over three years instead of two years. This will really soften the blow for households, especially those struggling financially,” she added.

Raise water prices by as much as 100% to reflect production cost: Economist
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Faced with the news that the price of water will increase by 30 per cent over the next two years, Professor Ng Yew-Kwang is of the opinion that the hike should be even larger, to reflect the cost of water production.

"In my view, it's too little," he told Channel NewsAsia on Friday (Feb 24). "From an overall economy point of view, we can increase it even more.

"I would prefer at least 50 per cent - if not (a) 100 per cent (hike)," said the Nanyang Technological University economics professor.

Prof Ng pointed out that water prices have not been raised since 2000 – nearly two decades ago. He added that it is also costly to produce water - and how much the public pays has to reflect this.

National water agency PUB earlier revealed that the cost of operating the country's water system has more than doubled in that time: It cost half a billion dollars to operate Singapore's water system in 2000, and the amount had gone up to S$1.3 billion by 2015.

The Government also said it would invest more in water infrastructure to meet growing demand and boost Singapore's water resilience, especially in the face of climate change.

Following the hike, Singapore's water prices will be on par with European countries like Germany and Denmark, said Prof Ng.

"If you compare internationally, to other Asian cities like Taipei, Hong Kong and Beijing, Singapore's prices are higher. But if you take into account the income level, then it's not high.

"If you compare it with other European countries, their prices are much higher."

Prof Ng said that in most countries, water prices tend to be too low, rather than too high, as the public thinks water, which is essential to life, should be free.

"If consumers pay less, then the government will have to make up the difference. Then that means the government has to collect taxes from other sources … That has a disincentive effect.

"As long as the price of water is not more than the price of production, increasing the price towards cost of production will increase efficiency by encouraging consumers to save appropriately."

Water prices will be raised in two phases, first in July and again next year.

But Prof Ng said that increasing the price at once, instead of in phases, would be more effective in changing habits.

"If you increase it in two steps, then each step is not very significant," he said. "People don't even notice it and will forget about it soon. But if we have a one-step significant increase, then it has a shock effect.

"If you want to do it in steps, then it should have been increased 10, five years ago. In my view, it's already too late because popularly, water is perceived to have low prices and hence maybe the Government was hesitant to increase the prices to make the public happy.

"But from a purely economic point of view, water prices should have been increased many years ago."

Industries that use a lot of water in their operations - like manufacturing and construction – are expected to feel the pinch.

"What businesses are really feeling is not just about the water, but the fact that costs are high and that this is an added factor to increase in costs," said Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises.

He added that the price hike is expected to be passed on to consumers.

"Businesses will price up the costs of their goods and services accordingly. There's no doubt about that because there's no way that businesses can keep absorbing costs.

"And we're in the climate where demand is falling; businesses are experiencing a shrinkage of demand. So I'm quite sure it will be passed down to the customers."

However, businesses like food court operator Kopitiam will be absorbing the added costs. Water bills for its stall holders are projected to increase by S$30 to S$60.

The company will also encourage stall holders to conserve water. "We are thinking of installing a prepaid meter where they can monitor their water usage, so they are more conscious of how much water they are using," said Mr Vincent Cheong, corporate communications manager at Kopitiam.

He added that the company has urged stall holders not to increase the price of food and drinks.

- CNA/dt

Budget 2017's water price hike: What you're not hearing about the 30% increase
Peter Lin AsiaOne 24 Feb 17;

At the Budget 2017 announcement, there were many important points raised by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, and we'd like to talk about as many of them as possible. But Singaporeans seemed fixated on just one issue - the price of water.

And it's not surprising, when you think about it. Just like water makes up 70 per cent of a human body, many Singaporeans think "the 70 per cent" are to blame for this newly announced price increase of 30 per cent.

30%! So much!

Knowing that the increase would be significant, Environment Minister Masagos tried to cushion the blow by announcing much earlier in the month that there would be a water price increase. But even then, I don't think anyone expected such a significant increase.

It was only at Budget 2017 where the actual specifics were revealed. Minister Heng, in his Budget speech, tried to defend the increase by providing four main points: that production of water through desalination and NEWater plants were costly, the last time they increased the price of water was in 2000, the increase would be phased in slowly, and lastly, that households will be given rebates to defray the increased costs.

How is water priced in Singapore?

Assuming you're not one of the three people who look at their utilities bill regularly, here's the surprisingly complicated water pricing structure in Singapore.

Firstly, there's the basic Water Tariff, which for households is currently $1.17 per cubic metre before GST if you use less than 40 cubic metres per month (i.e. anyone who doesn't live in a bungalow), and $1.40 per cubic metre if you use more than 40 cubic metres of water a month (i.e. people who can afford it). The Water Tariff makes up the bulk of your water cost each month.

Secondly, there's a Waterborne Fee and the Sanitary Appliance Fee. The Waterborne Fee is a variable fee and is currently charged $0.28 per cubic metre based on your usage. The Sanitary Appliance Fee is a fixed fee charged at a flat rate of $2.80 per fitting per month based on how many toilet bowls your property has. These two charges help offset the cost of maintaining, operating and expanding the country's sewage systems.

Still with me? Good.

The third and final fee is the Water Conservation Tax. The government introduced this tax back in 1991 and set it at 30 per cent of the Water Tariff if you use 40 cubic metres of water or less each month, or 45 per cent of the Water Tariff if you use more than 40 cubic metres of water each month. It doesn't represent the cost of producing water, it's just a way to encourage you to conserve it.

So how does the announced increase in water price affect these charges?

The main point is that the increase affects ALL the various charges. What's interesting is how they've increased at different rates. Most households in Singapore use 40 cubic metres of water or less each month. The Water Tariff, for us, will only increase from $1.17 per cubic metre of water to $1.19 later this year, to $1.21 per cubic metre from July 2018. That's just an increase in 4 cents, or 3.4 per cent of the current Water Tariff.

Over the same period, our Water Conservation Tax will increase from 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the Water Tariff, or an increase of 26 cents per cubic metre of water, or a 76.4 per cent increase of the current Water Conservation Tax. While this seems like a significant amount, it's in line with the Government's consistent call in the past 25 years to conserve water.

However, what is very curious is the decision to merge the Waterborne Fee with the Sanitary Appliance Fee. The official reason is to be "more reflective of the volume of used water discharged". In other words, just because your household has three toilet bowls doesn't mean you go to the toilet three times more than the household with only one toilet bowl. That seems fair.

What doesn't is how the Waterborne Fee has now jumped from $0.28 per cubic metre of water to $0.92 per cubic metre of water over the next two years. That's a 64 cent increase per cubic metre of water, or a seeming 228 per cent increase!

Thanks to PUB here's a quick table of the new water price changes:

And yes, these values are pre-GST.

That's not how math works

Before you jump on the comments box and start flaming me for being a sensationalist troll, I know that I haven't included the Sanitary Appliance Fee. But let's look at a scenario - an HDB 5-room flat that, according to Singapore Power's website, uses just 17.5 cubic metres of water a month. Let's assume there are two toilet bowls in the flat.

The Waterborne Fee would currently be $4.90, and the Sanitary Appliance Fee would be 2 x $2.80 = $5.60, for a total of $10.50.

Come July 2018, the Waterborne Fee (which includes the Sanitary Appliance Fee) for the same amount of water usage would be $16.10. Even though it's not a 228 per cent increase, it's still a 53.3 per cent increase, and that's still pretty alarming.

But all that being said, let's just put things in perspective

Assume you live in a 5-room HDB flat that uses an average of 17.5 cubic metres of water a month. Currently, you'll be paying $37.10 a month.

By July this year, assuming the same water usage, water will cost you $41.85 a month. By July 2018, assuming the same water usage, it'll set you back $47.95 a month.

Yes, that's almost a 30 per cent increase, but in real terms, it's only $10.85 more a month by 2018. It's not that much more.

All in all, over the next two years, assuming your water usage stays constant, you'll be paying $1,012.50 for water, about $122.10 more than you normally would. But here's the thing, as the owner of a 5-room flat - you'll also be getting up to $260 in U-Save Rebates during that time, so there's still a net benefit from the government.

The water price increase seems to be mainly to discourage businesses from wasting water, and with the U-Save rebates, is designed not to have a major impact on Singaporeans. But since this is just one of many small cost increases in Singapore over the past couple of months, one is led to wonder why our government seems determined to give us so many bitter pills to swallow.

PUB makes a profit thanks only to govt grants: Maliki
Pearl Lee, The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Feb 17;

National water agency PUB made a profit of more than $160 million last year only because it received about $200 million in grants.

Without the government grants, PUB would have been operating at a deficit, said Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman yesterday.

The East Coast GRC MP was responding to a participant who asked about PUB's profitability at a post-Budget dialogue with about 100 Malay residents.

On Friday, socio-political site States Times Review published an article stating that PUB is going ahead with a 30 per cent increase in water prices despite posting a profit of $166 million last year.

But Dr Maliki told residents the profit must be seen in the context of the subsidy that PUB received from the Government.

As with previous forums, the increase in water prices was a top concern for residents. Some were worried about its impact on consumer goods and the prices of food and drinks sold in coffee shops.

Water prices will increase by 30 per cent in two phases from July butthose living in public flats will receive rebates to help them cope.

Dr Maliki yesterday explained to residents that 1,000 litres of water are now sold at $2.15. With the hike, the price will go up to $2.74. Assuming that amount of water can make 5,000 cups of coffee, the increase in price for one cup of coffee would work out to be a fraction of a cent.

Read also: Singapore to raise water price by 30 per cent over two years

He told residents that the authorities cannot stop coffee shops and hawker centres from raising prices, if the establishments can justify the increase. But the price increase should not be solely due to the hike in water prices, he said.

He also urged residents to inform the authorities if they find cases of unjustified price increases.

Mr Zahri Ahmad, a 55-year-old Simei resident, said the Housing Board could install sensor taps in homes as part of its Enhancement for Active Seniors programme, as elderly people with dementia may forget to switch off the taps.

Dr Maliki said he would relay the suggestion to HDB but noted that residents could also install thimbles in their taps to save water.

Other topics discussed include the higher housing rebates, the economy, jobs and community services such as aid for disabled people.

Marine and offshore technology student Amirul Mustaqim Irwan, 23, said he is concerned about the disruption of jobs as manual tasks in shipyards are being replaced by automation.

The final-year Ngee Ann Polytechnic student said: "I've been checking out several training schemes but I'm also keeping my options open. I may enter another field altogether if the prospects are better."

Read more!