Best of our wild blogs: 31 May 17

Signs of dugong at Changi
wild shores of singapore

Hello from the otterside!
BES Drongos

Singapore Raptor Report – March 2017
Singapore Bird Group

Read more!

Finding oil palm alternative could be key to haze issue

JOSE MONTESCLAROS Today Online 31 May 17;

The majority of forest fires in South-east Asia occurs in states that produce oil palm, according to Global Forest Watch. Forests are cleared to make way for oil palm plantations. To save on clearing costs, farmers resort to burning.

While frameworks to stop haze are being established at the regional level as well as in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, the challenge remains to get on board the actors who currently benefit from drained peatlands — the farmers, companies and investors profiting from oil palm.

Could a long-term solution to preventing forest fires in the region lie in promoting alternative commodities that can grow in wet peatlands?

The sine qua non, or the condition without which fires cannot start and spread, is the presence of dry peatlands.

Peatlands are naturally wet swamps of decomposed matter. They are nutrient-rich, but extremely flammable when dry. Yet, farmers are driven to drain these swamps, because oil palm can grow only in dry soil.

The initiative of restoring peatlands to their naturally wet state has been emphasised by Indonesia.

However, unless the practice of draining peatlands is addressed, haze will continue to be a challenge.

At root is the choice of oil palm as the dominant crop for growing. This happens for two key reasons.

First, oil palm is highly profitable and offers higher wages than other crops. The World Agroforestry Centre reports that oil palm in Indonesia yields profits of up to 44 million to 295 million rupiah (S$4,600 to S$30,000) per hectare per annum, and oil palm wages are two to seven times greater than average agricultural wages in the country.

The other reason is the short lead time in growing oil palm, taking three to four years before bearing fruit (with some gestation time before harvesting). This short lead time reduces the risks to investors who wish to invest in oil palm, in comparison to plants such as sago, which can take 10 to 15 years before harvest.

To prevent farmers and private companies from draining peatlands, it must be economically sustainable to keep them wet.

Alternative commodities need to be leveraged that can be grown in peatlands while meeting three key conditions.

First, they must grow in natural wet peat conditions.

Second, they must compete with oil palm in profitability, to translate into equivalent or higher wages to farmers, and into returns to investors.

Third, they must be able to reduce investor risk by having shorter lead times before harvest.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has already identified commodities that can grow in naturally wet peat conditions.

These include sago, papyrus, wild rice, wetland taro, water celery, water spinach and Chinese water chestnut. Apart from these, there are plants that can grow in moderately drained peatlands, such as rice, bananas, beans, carrots, celery, corn, lettuce, mint, onions, potatoes, parsley, radish, pasture-sod, sugar cane chili, soya bean, tobacco and a few horticultural crops.

The challenge, however, is that there is limited information on which of these commodities meet the second and third conditions — of comparable profitability and time taken before investors start getting net positive returns on their investments. Among the limited studies available, one shows that if sago was chosen as an alternative crop to explore, it takes sago 10 to 15 years before it can start bearing fruit, and that the internal rate of return is up to 8.06 per cent — still low compared with 20 per cent of oil palm.

Alternatively, some crops, such as radish or celery, can be grown in less than a year, but it is not known if there will be sufficient demand for these. Additional preparations may be needed, such as reducing the acidity of the soil, preventing pests and diseases, or increasing the value-add of producers through additional processing.

There is need for more research and institutional support in improving the desirability of producing alternative commodities, in both the demand and supply side. These need to be considered in developing and implementing long-term rehabilitation plans.

Demand-side interventions include research on identifying which among the identified alternative commodities are in demand, who the buyers are, what qualities and traits they desire, and what prices they are sold at.

Buyers may include domestic buyers within Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as importers from higher-income countries abroad. In Japan, for instance, youth are leaving the agricultural sector, creating opportunities for countries such as Indonesia to provide selected crops.

Supply-side interventions require identifying technologies that can allow for meeting buyer requirements, while at the same time being cost effective to producers. Research into how to boost yields in producing the commodities, such as through resistance to submergence/flooding, pests and diseases will be needed.

For instance, if heavy research led to growth in the productivity of cassava production, from just six tonnes/ha to up to 30 tonnes/ha, can this not be done in the case of the crops identified by FAO?

Along with boosting yields, it will also be important to hasten the time before crops can be harvested.

Research at the National Institute of Education, Singapore, for instance, shows that certain planting systems and growing environments can shorten grow-out periods.

Agricultural transformation will have an important part to play in addressing haze, but this requires farmers, businesses, investors, academia and governments to play their part.


Jose Montesclaros is Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. This first appeared in RSIS Commentary.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sabah leads the way with two more forest reserves

The Star 31 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: With two additional reserves meeting international standards for well-managed forests, Sabah now leads in certified forest coverage in the South-East Asian region.

The two areas – Trusan Sugut and Ulu Kalumpang-Mt Wulldersdorf – were added by the Sabah Forestry Department recently after being certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Its director Datuk Sam Mannan said with these additions, Sabah now has a total of 746,564.91ha in fully certified forest reserves, with 675,691.68ha under natural forest management and 70,873.23ha in tree plantations.

Trusan Sugut is a Class 1 Forest Reserve covering a total of 8,680ha and is located in Beluran district, he said.

It consists of several unique areas such as lowland mixed dipterocarp forests, freshwater swamps, mangroves and beach forest, providing a haven for rare, threatened and endangered mammals and birds.

The Ulu Kalumpang-Mt Wullers­dorf reserve is in Kunak district and covers an area of 64,953.74 ha.

It is an important water resource for Tawau and Kunak districts, Mannan said, adding that this reserve is mainly lowland dipterocarp forests, last logged in 1986.

He said both reserves successfully met the FSC’s requirements and have now been certified as well-managed forests for a five-year period from May 16 this year until May 15, 2022.

The department is now in the process of getting several other managed forests certified under the FSC within the next three years.

Read more!

Indonesia: Illegal snake-skin trade thwarted in North Sumatra

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 31 May 17;

The North Sumatra office of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) thwarted an illegal attempt to trade snake-skin at Belawan Port in Medan, North Sumatra, on Tuesday.

Hundreds of python skins were about to be sent to a recipient in Karawang regency, West Java, according to Zakaria, a BKSDA official.

Zakaria said the delivery attempt was foiled at about 9:45 a.m.

About 350 snake-skins were put in a sack to be sent on a ship to Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta.

Officials checked the shipment and allege that the sender, Riduan Plipus Sitohang, did not have a permit for trading in wildlife parts.

“This is an illegal delivery. There were no completed documents. Furthermore, it is illegal to trade python skins,” Zakaria told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Officials at the port claim that Riduan told them he sold the skins for around Rp 25,000 per sheet.

Riduan said it took him about a month to cut, skin and dry the 350 snake-skins.

He reportedly added that many people killed the snakes and sold them to him at his house.

Riduan is also reported to have said that his customers like python skins because they can be fashioned into clothes, bags, shoes and jackets.

Besides selling the skins domestically, officials said he also claimed to have exported snake-skins to China and South Korea. (rin)

Read more!

Indonesia: Locals Committed to Protecting Dugong in Raja Ampat

Tempo 30 May 17;

Sorong - Indigenous people in Aduwei village in Raja Ampat, West Papua are committed to protecting dugongs.

Adewei village chief Karel Fatot said that dugongs are easily found in the waters off the village. “Indigenous people are protecting dugongs and other marine species with a tradition the locals call Sasi,” he said yesterday, May 29, in Sorong.

He explained that Sasi is a traditional prohibition on catching dugongs and fish in the waters off the village. “People may only catch fish in the waters off the village after the Sasi period ends or Sasi is revoked. Sasi typically applies for six months in a year,” he said.

According to him, people may catch fish after the end of Sasi period but may not hunt dugongs.

Locals protect dugongs because the animals attract tourists.

He said that Aduwei village in Raja Ampat boasts a beautiful marine attraction and tourists can easily interact with dugongs. He, however, bemoaned the lack of transport modes in the area and marketing campaign to draw visitors.


Read more!

Vietnam: Explosion rocks Formosa steel plant that caused toxic spill

Faith Hung and My Pham Reuters 30 May 17;

An explosion rocked Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group's new steel plant in Vietnam late on Tuesday, a day after it resumed test operations for the first time since causing one of the country's worst environmental disasters.

The so-called dust explosion was caused by the combustion of fine particles in the air as a result of an equipment malfunction, Chang Fu-ning, an executive vice president of Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, told Reuters.

The incident is likely to raise fresh concerns about the safety of the $11 billion plant although Chang said there were no casualties and it would have little impact on preparations for the launch of production.

"Our equipment which collects dust suffered an explosion. We immediately cut off the power supply for a security check. We're trying to find out what caused it," Chang told Reuters by phone.

"There was no fire, damage or casualties as a result," he said. "The test-runs are still ongoing."

The Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant spilled toxic waste that polluted more than 200 km (125 miles) of Vietnam's coastline in 2016, devastating sea life and local economies dependent on fishing and tourism. The plant restarted on Monday after its operations were halted in the wake of the disaster.

Formosa paid $500 million in compensation to affected communities and in March said it would boost investment by about $350 million in the steel project, amid public outcry against the company and the government's handling of the spill.

The fresh investment would go into improving environmental safety measures, raise working capital, buy material and build a dry coking system.

The plant started test operations on Monday after receiving a test-run license from the Vietnamese government.

The company has said it hopes to start commercial production in the fourth quarter of this year, subject to an approval from the Vietnamese government.

(Reporting by Faith Hung in TAIPEI and My Pham in HANOI; Editing by Stephen Coates)

Formosa steel plant in Vietnam restarts after toxic spill
Mai Nguyen Reuters 29 May 17;

Formosa Plastics Group's steel plant in Vietnam restarted on Monday after its operations were halted for causing one of the country's worst environmental disasters, local media reported.

In April last year, the $11 billion Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant accidentally spilled toxic waste that polluted more than 200 km (125 miles) of coastline, devastating sea life and local economies dependent on fishing and tourism. Taiwanese-owned Formosa paid $500 million in compensation.

Formosa has met requirements to test-run its first blast furnace, local media quoted Deputy Environment Minister Nguyen Linh Ngoc as saying.

Authorities will closely monitor the furnace and the initial result of the run will be available in 24 hours, while waste samples will be taken every five minutes, local media quoted senior environmental official Hoang Duong Tung as saying.

Formosa has addressed 52 out of 53 violations identified, Tung said, adding the company was expected to put in place a dry coking system by 2019 to replace the current wet coking system, which is cheaper but dirtier.

The Formosa incident is a sensitive topic for the Vietnamese government as it balances political stability, environmental protection and foreign direct investment, one of its key economic growth drivers. Formosa is one of Vietnam's biggest foreign investors.

Last year's spill, and the delay in addressing it, triggered rallies and an outpouring of anger not seen in four decades of Communist Party rule. People in the central provinces have continued protesting to demand more compensation.

Formosa in March said it would boost investment by about $350 million in the project to improve environmental safety measures with the hope of starting commercial production by the fourth quarter of this year.

(Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter)

Read more!

How the popularity of sea cucumbers is threatening coastal communities

University of British Columbia Science Daily 30 May 17;

Coastal communities are struggling with the complex social and ecological impacts of a growing global hunger for a seafood delicacy, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia.

"Soaring demand has spurred sea cucumber booms across the globe," says lead author Mary Kaplan-Hallam, who conducted the research as a master's student with the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC.

"For many coastal communities, sea cucumber isn't something that was harvested in the past. Fisheries emerged rapidly. Money, buyers and fishers from outside the community flooded in. This has also increased pressure on other already overfished resources."

Sea cucumber can sell for hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of dollars a pound. The "gold rush" style impacts of high-value fisheries exacerbate longer-term trends in already vulnerable communities, such as declines in traditional fish stocks, population increases, climate change and illegal fishing.

"These boom-and-bust cycles occur across a range of resource industries," says co-author Nathan Bennett, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC. "What makes these fisheries so tricky is that they appear rapidly and often deplete local resources just as rapidly, leaving communities with little time to recover."

The researchers based their findings on a case study of Río Lagartos, a fishing community on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. For the past 50 years, small-scale commercial fishing has been the dominant livelihood of the community.

The town's first commercial sea cucumber permits were issued in 2013, a significant economic opportunity for fishers in the region. The leathery marine animals are a delicacy in many parts of Asia, and as stocks have depleted there, demand has rapidly depleted fisheries across the globe.

A host of new challenges emerged in Río Lagartos as the sea cucumbers attracted outside fishers, money and patrons, according to the researchers' interviews with community members.

"Resource management, incomes, fisher health and safety, levels of social conflict and social cohesion in the community are all impacted," says Kaplan-Hallam. "The potential financial rewards are also causing local fishers to take bigger risks as sea cucumber stocks are depleted and diving must occur further from shore, with dire health consequences."

Unfortunately, say the authors, this isn't an isolated situation.

"There are many examples around the world where elite global seafood markets -- abalone, sea urchins, sharks -- are undermining local sustainability," says Bennett. "If we want to sustainably manage fisheries with coastal communities, we need a better understanding of how global seafood markets impact communities and how to manage these impacts quickly. Think of it like an epidemic: it requires a rapid response before it gets out of control."

Journal Reference:

Maery Kaplan-Hallam, Nathan J. Bennett, Terre Satterfield. Catching sea cucumber fever in coastal communities: Conceptualizing the impacts of shocks versus trends on social-ecological systems. Global Environmental Change, 2017; 45: 89 DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2017.05.003

Read more!

Scientists warn US coral reefs are on course to disappear within decades

New Noaa research shows that strict conservation measures in Hawaii have not spared corals from a warming ocean in one of its most prized bays
Oliver Milman The Guardian 30 May 17;

Some of America’s most protected corals have been blighted by bleaching, with scientists warning that US reefs are on course to largely disappear within just a few decades because of global warming.

New research has shown that strict conservation measures in Hawaii have not spared corals from a warming ocean in one of its most prized bays, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting yet more bleaching is likely off Hawaii and Florida this summer.

“I’m concerned because we could very well see bleaching return to Florida, parts of the Caribbean and Hawaii,” said Mark Eakin, a coral reef specialist at Noaa.

“It won’t be as severe as 2015, but we’ve now moved into a general pattern where warmer than normal temperatures are the new normal. US reefs have taken a severe beating. We are looking at the loss or at least severe degradation of most reefs in the the coming decades.”

A global coral bleaching event has shifted between the northern and southern hemispheres since 2014, affecting around 70% of the world’s reefs. The “terminal” condition of Australia’s sprawling Great Barrier Reef, which suffered bleaching along two-thirds of its 1,400-mile length in 2016 and 2017, has provoked the greatest alarm.

But scientists have pointed out that America’s main reefs, found off Hawaii, Florida, Guam and Puerto Rico, are facing a largely unheralded disaster.

“The idea we will sustain reefs in the US 100 years from now is pure imagination. At the current rate it will be just 20 or 30 years, it’s just a question of time,” said Kim Cobb, an oceanographer at Georgia Tech. “The overall health of reefs will be severely compromised by the mid-point of the century and we are already seeing the first steps in that process.”

Bleaching occurs when prolonged high temperatures in the ocean cause coral to expel the symbiotic algae that provides it with food and colour. The coral turns a ghostly white, and can die if tolerable conditions don’t return. The world’s oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the extra heat generated by the release of greenhouse gases from human activity.

Cobb said regular annual bleaching events, which recent research has forecast happening by the 2040s, will “undercut the resilience of these ecosystems”. Corals not killed off by bleaching are left weakened by the process and are less likely to survive if repeatedly subjected to above-average temperatures.

“As scientists we are breathlessly trying to catch up,” said Cobb. “Things started to run away from us around 10 years ago but we were perhaps a little naive in not realizing that.”

In 2014 and 2015, Hawaii’s coral reefs suffered up to 90% bleaching, with some areas losing half of their coral cover. New research now shows that even one of the most protected parts of the Hawaiian coast was ravaged by coral bleaching.

Surveys of the Hanauma Bay nature preserve, a protected enclave on Oahu where fishing is banned, found 47% of the area’s corals experienced bleaching on average, with nearly 10% dying. Hanauma Bay is popular with tourists, with around 3,000 visitors each day, but the research stressed that the heat of the ocean rather than direct human interference caused the coral loss.

“This is a protected place and yet it’s not able to escape the temperature,” said Angela Richards Dona of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and a co-author of the report which was based on surveys taken in October 2015 and January 2016 and published in PeerJ. “It was very distressing to see. It does not bode well for Hawaii’s corals.”

Cobb, who was not involved in the research, said it was “sobering to read about the level of bleaching at one of the crown jewels of coral ecosystems. I’m thankful that most corals didn’t tip over to death.”

“This is another data point on the staggering breadth of damage across the global oceans,” Cobb said. “You can run but you can’t hide from the train wreck that is coming. The recent bleaching has been a brush with death and shows that this fatal stress is upon us.”

In 2014, Hawaii experienced only its second recorded episode of widespread bleaching, with around 90% of the shallow reefs affected at Lisianski Island, part of the vast Papahānaumokuākea marine national monument.

Eakin said this bleaching resulted in “kilometers of reef that was completely dead” and showed that the absence of local pollution or tourism cannot compensate the impact of warming waters.

“You need six pages of paperwork to go diving off Lisianski Island, there’s no-one living there, there are no threats,” Eakin said. “And yet the coral is overwhelmed by these big heat stress events that are becoming more frequent with climate change.”

Elevated heat, spurred by a El Niño climatic event, returned in 2015 and led to bleaching along the shores of Hawaii island and Oahu, the first back-to-back bleaching seen in Hawaii. The situation could have been more severe had storms not brought relieving cloud cover to areas including Hanauma Bay.

Last year, scientists highlighted the “unprecedented” collapse of Florida’s reef, which curves along the south-eastern tip of the state to the Florida Keys. The ecosystem, the only barrier reef in the continental US, was pillaged by bleaching in 2014 and 2015 and is now “beginning to dissolve away”, according to Chris Langdon, a coral expert at the University of Miami.

Despite the onset of La Niña, a flip-side of El Niño that results in an upwelling of cooler waters at the tropics, the global bleaching event continues unabated and is the “longest, most widespread and most damaging on record”, according to Noaa.

Severe bleaching has swept across the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, with some areas altered beyond recognition. More than 80% of shallow water reefs off Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, have died, while images released from a survey last year showed 90% bleaching of reefs around Okinawa, Japan.

Coral reefs are found in less than 1% of the world’s oceans but support a riot of colour and life, with around a quarter of all marine species relying upon the nooks and crannies of reefs for food or shelter. Reefs also act as a crucial coastal buffer from storms and provide food and livelihoods for millions of people. A study published this month found the global reef tourism industry is worth around $36bn.

“In the US our reefs are worth a huge amount but I don’t know if people realize that, more attention would not hurt,” said Dona, co-author of the Hawaii reef study.

“There are places in the world that have lost a tremendous amount of coral and we have the same prognosis if we continue to burn fossil fuels in the way we are doing. We need to cut our carbon emissions because the corals just can’t handle it.”

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 30 May 17

Return to Serapong reef after mass coral bleaching
wild shores of singapore

Read more!

Lim Chu Kang farmers perplexed by 3rd lease extension

Move giving farms in Lim Chu Kang two more years till 2021 leaves many in limbo
Audrey Tan and Samantha Boh Straits Times 28 May 17;

The third time's the charm, or so the saying goes. But some farmers in Lim Chu Kang may beg to differ.

About two weeks ago, they were told their leases had been extended by another two years to 2021 - the third extension in four years.

But while their rice bowls can continue feeding them for the extra years, farmers say they are caught in limbo as the repeated extensions add uncertainty - it would be too risky to plough investments into a plot of land with an expiry date. Many simply end up playing a waiting game.

The agricultural sector is small, contributing to less than 10 per cent of total food supply. But local food production is still vital for food security.

Despite this, uncertainties plague the industry. For instance, even though some farmers in Lim Chu Kang knew they had to move from as early as 2013, it was not until earlier this month that the authorities announced details of the location and size of the new plots of farm land available for bidding.

A total of 36 new plots of farmland spanning 60ha will be up for tender in several tranches from August this year. The new plots are in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah, not far from the current farms.


The Jurong Frog Farm (above) has received three lease extensions since 2013. Director Chelsea Wan, seen here with her son Adam, is still mulling over whether to bid for the new farmland tender in August. The farm is one of 62 making way for new military training grounds. PHOTOS: DON WONG FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
As Ms Chelsea Wan, 32, of Jurong Frog Farm puts it: "If there had been more certainty, and our time not extended bit by bit over the years, our morale wouldn't have taken such a big hit and we would have done much more."

The extra years could have made investing in a customised recirculating aquaculture system designed to improve water quality for the bullfrogs worthwhile, said Ms Wan, who is a director at Singapore's only American bullfrog breeding farm.

The original lease on Ms Wan's farm, founded in Jurong by her father Wan Bock Thiaw in 1981, had initially been due to expire in November 2013. Reprieve came that month, when the authorities gave her farm a three-year lease extension to November last year.

A month before that deadline, the frog farm received a second lifeline in a letter informing them of a "final extension" till November 2019.

The latest letter with the 2021 deadline is the third received by Jurong Frog Farm since 2013, and the second one indicating a "final extension", said Ms Wan.

In response to queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said the 2021 deadline "will be the final lease extension".

Ms Wan's farm was one of 62 which will have to move to make way for new military training grounds. She is still mulling over whether to bid for the new farmland tender in August.

At nearby goat farm Hay Dairies, farmer John Hay, 62, is wondering whether the latest extension could mean that it can stay put.

"What if by the time 2021 comes around, the Government tells me that I can stay?" he said.

The AVA had said that experienced farmers with a good track record and who are willing to adopt high-tech farming methods to boost productivity and use of labour will stand a good chance of winning their bids.

Still, he plans to bid for new land when it comes up for tender, and his son Leon Hay, 38, has other ideas to boost productivity, including bringing in more goats and expanding from milk to other products, such as yogurt and ice cream.

But the younger Mr Hay said of the uncertainty surrounding the extension: "Even if we are successful in bidding for new land, can the Government ensure that our current plot of land will not be re-tendered once we move out?"


The letter informing farmers of the 2021 deadline, which The Sunday Times has seen, said that the extension would give them "sufficient time to transit to the new farm land if you bid successfully in the upcoming tenders by AVA". But not all the farms which would have needed to vacate by end-2019 received this.

Quan Fa Organic Farm located at 35 Murai Farmway, off Lim Chu Kang Road, for example, did not receive the extension, said Mr Fabian Liao, sales and operations manager at the family-run vegetable farm.

In response, AVA would only say that Quan Fa is not in Lim Chu Kang, and that "farms should plan their business based on their existing lease for business sustainability".

In other countries, the future of farming depends on whether there are members of the younger generation who are willing to become farmers, said the elder Mr Hay. "In Singapore, we have younger people stepping up. But we may not have the land for them."

But Mr Kenny Eng, president of the Kranji Countryside Association that represents about 40 farms, believes the agriculture sector here could grow - provided the right support is given.

"I think this additional two years gives us the assurance that the Government is seriously looking at this as an industry right now, but there is still more work to be done."

Timeline of lease extensions

September 2014: 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang are told they will have to move out between 2017 and 2021 when their leases expire. They are told that the tract of land will be converted into military training grounds. Farms whose leases run out between 2014 and early 2017 are given an extension until June 2017.

June 2016: Farms whose leases run out in June 2017 are given an extension by 2½ years to end 2019.

This month: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) announces that it will tender out 36 new plots of farmland in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah on 20-year leases from August.

AVA said experienced farmers with good track records awho are willing to adopt high-tech farming methods will stand a good chance of winning their bids. Some farms are given a third lease extension, by two years, to 2021.

Read more!

Cambodia Customs Recorded Less Than 1% of Singapore Sand Imports

BEN PAVIOUR The Nation 30 May 17;

Cambodia’s customs department counted less than 1 percent of the sand Singapore reported importing from Cambodia last year, according to trade statistics.

The new data is the latest addition to a more than 77 million ton gap from 2007 to last year that the governments of both countries have attributed to differing international reporting standards, and activists have chalked up to corruption.

Meanwhile, Cambodia has exported almost 100,000 tons of silica sand this year. The government says that type of sand is exempt from its October ban on exports of the commodity, according to trade data on the website of the Finance Ministry’s department of customs and excise.

Singapore, which uses sand to reclaim land and expand its territory, reported importing more than 6.5 million tons of Cambodian sand last year in data it provided to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database—down from more than 10.9 million tons the year before.

But Cambodia’s customs department figures show just 14,800 tons of Singapore-bound sand leaving the country, continuing a trend over the past three years of the department counting less than 1 percent of the sand recorded by Singapore.

Meng Saktheara, a spokesman for the Mines and Energy Ministry, repeated the ministry’s past defenses of the gap, arguing that such discrepancies were a common feature of trade statistics due to international differences in measurement, classification and reporting.

“Basically, you can’t find a country that has an exact match,” he said, adding that he was puzzled by why the gap might be so large.

Singapore’s National Development Ministry did not respond to a request for comment, but in the past has blamed the trade differences on different calculation formulas.

Those explanations do not satisfy Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the exiled founder of environmental NGO Mother Nature, which has documented ecological havoc caused by what it calls illegal sand dredging in Koh Kong province.

“The gap in reported trade, as the vast majority of Cambodians already know, is due to smuggling, under-reporting, and several fraudulent practices key government agencies have been engaged in over the last 10 years,” he wrote in a Facebook message on Monday.

Although the ministry banned sand exports in late October to get to the bottom of the trade gap, Mr. Saktheara said it had immediately issued a clarification allowing the continued export of silica sand.

Cambodia’s exports of silica sand, which is used to make glass, were sourced from the ground rather than waterways, according to Mr. Saktheara, with almost all of the exports coming from special economic zones (SEZs) along the coast.

“The sand leaving Cambodia—if it’s legal—is all silica sand,” he said.

Those exports have totaled 94,600 tons sent to China, Taiwan and Thailand, according to the customs department.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said it was possible these exports were also causing environmental destruction, pointing to an SEZ owned by the LYP Group conglomerate “carved out of the Botum Sakor National Park, where extraction and export of silica sand is taking place.”

“Some of these ongoing exports could be coming from SEZs such as this, but we cannot know for certain as the relevant ministries feel they have no need to be transparent to the Cambodian people,” he said.

Read more!

Vegetable prices rise in Singapore due to rainy weather in Malaysia

The Star 29 May 17;

SINGAPORE: Inclement weather has reduced vegetable yield from farms in Malaysia, causing vegetable prices to rise by as much as 20%.

The reduced yield has also caused a corresponding fall in import volume of Malaysian vegetables, Shin Min Daily News reported on Monday (May 29).

The report added that celery, spring onion and coriander prices are thought to be the hardest-hit, citing vegetable sellers in Singapore wet markets.

Said a vegetable seller at the Toa Payoh Lorong 8 wet market, who was identified only as Chen: "Vegetable roots have rotted in the waterlogged soil."

Prices of celery at wet markets have increased by 20%, from S$5 (RM15) to S$6 (RM19) per kg, while spring onion and coriander have increased from S$6 (RM19) per kg to S$7 (RM22) per kg and S$14 (RM43) to S$16 (RM49) per kg respectively.

The prices of other vegetables have also increased, but by an insignificant degree, added the report.

Import prices for celery, spring onion and coriander have also increased by about 50%, revealed Jerry Tan, who is general secretary of the Singapore Fruits And Vegetables Importers & Exporters Association.

He added that the price volatility of these three vegetables was caused by low import prices previously, prompting many Malaysian farms to stop cultivating them.

This amplified the adverse impact of the weather on yield for these vegetables. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Read more!

Indonesia: Choppers prepared to anticipate forest fires in Riau

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 May 17;

Authorities in Riau have prepared five helicopters with water bombing abilities as the forest-fire-prone province braces for the dry season.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Edward Sanger said on Monday that the S-61 Sikorsky choppers had been stationed at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru.

“[The helicopters] have been equipped with buckets for water bombing,” Edward said, referring to the Mi-171, Mi-8 and Mi-172 chopper types, each of which has the ability to carry four tons of water.

The operational areas of the choppers were Pekanbaru and Riau's eastern coastal area and southern area.

“Riau will see a very dry season in June that could trigger forest fires, especially in peat lands in eastern coastal areas,” he said, adding that the province had a forest fire alert status until Nov. 30. This year’s dry season was expected to be similar to that of 2015, when the province helped pollute the region with smoke.

Meanwhile, Roesmin Nurjadin air base operational division head Col. Firman Dwi Cahyo said that the Air Force would also prepare one Super Puma helicopter and dozens of F-16 and Hawk 100/200 fighter jets to back up the fire patrols.

“Fighter jets can assist in imaging the hot spots and record the coordinates,” he said.

The numbers of hot spots in Riau were fluctuating last week. The Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) recorded seven hot spots on Saturday, but the number dropped to four the following day as rains poured down on the province.

Read more!

Indonesia: NGO calls for firm action against illegal logging in Mt Leuser area

Antara 29 May 17;

Medan, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) has urged legal enforcers to take firm action against illegal logging activities in Mount Leuser National Park, Langkat District, North Sumatra Province.

"Security officers should not only seize illegal timbers, but also arrest the perpetrators of illegal logging activities," Director Executive of Walhi branch of North Sumatra Dana Tarigan, said here, Sunday.

The authorities must take stern action against illegal logging activities, the NGO activist said.

The perpetrators must be punished heavily to give them and others a deterrent effect, according to Tarigan.

A joint team comprising among others personnel from the environmental affairs and forestry ministry and police officers, recently seized tens of cubic meters of timbers in Telagah village, Sei Bingei sub-district, Langkat District.

The Leuser ecosystem located in North Sumatra and Aceh Provinces, is among the most biodiverse and ancient ecosystems to be ever documented by science and the last habitat of Sumatran orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos, and sun bears.

The ecosystem is part of the 2.5 million-hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site that comprises three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park, and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

The site holds the greatest potential for long-term conservation of the distinctive and diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species.

The protected area is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, including 17 endemic genera; more than 200 mammal species; and some 580 bird species of which 465 are resident and 21 are endemic. Of the mammal species, 22 are Asian, not found elsewhere in the archipelago and 15 are confined to the Indonesian region, including the endemic Sumatran orang-utan.

The World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has inscribed the site since 2004. The natural site has been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2011 until present. (*)

Read more!

Coral bleaching on Great Barrier Reef worse than expected, surveys show

Surveys taken throughout 2016 show escalating impact from north to south, with 70% of shallow water corals dead north of Port Douglas
Australian Associated Press The Guardian 29 May 17;

Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef last year was even worse than expected, while the full impact of the most recent event is yet to be determined.

Queensland government officials say aerial and in-water surveys taken throughout 2016 had confirmed an escalating impact from north to south.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman, Russell Reichelt, said the reef had experienced significant and widespread damage over the past two years.

“The amount of coral that died from bleaching in 2016 is up from our original estimates and ... it’s expected we’ll also see an overall further coral cover decline by the end of 2017,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Surveys by the Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies found the most severe bleaching north of Port Douglas.

There, an estimated 70% of shallow water corals had died, with significant variability between and within reefs.

It is now confirmed that about 29% of shallow water corals died from bleaching during 2016, up from the previous estimate of 22%, with most mortality occurring in the northern parts of the reef.

Bleaching was also found in corals beyond depths divers typically survey, but mortality could not be systematically assessed.

However, there was a strong recovery in the south in the absence of bleaching during the same period.

Officials are predicting further coral loss this year, resulting from the second consecutive year of bleaching and the impacts of tropical Cyclone Debbie.

Over the past few months bleaching occurred in a similar pattern to last year, most severely between Cairns and Townsville.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 29 May 17

Open for registration – Love MacRitchie Walk with NUS Toddycats! on 11 Jun 2017
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Shit Gets Real - 7 Dung Spiders and their Remarkable Mimicry
Macro Photography in Singapore

Short Afternoon Walk At Windsor Nature Park (27 May 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonostigma) @ Upper Thomson Road
Monday Morgue

Read more!

'Nearly all shark's fin sold here from sustainable source'

Association says it uses regulated fisheries; conservation groups want better monitoring
Priscilla Goy Straits Times 27 May 17;

Almost all shark's fin sold here is from sustainable sources, said the Marine and Land Products Association yesterday, following the release of a study on Thursday that found Singapore to be a top trader of the controversial delicacy.

The group represents companies in the fishing and marine industry, including about 10 involved in the shark's fin trade. This makes up about 70 per cent of the shark's fin industry here, said Mr Yio Jin Xian, a representative of the association.

He wrote in an e-mail to The Straits Times yesterday: "We constantly strive to provide sustainable products from countries with well-documented federal regulations on shark fishing... We are continuously seeking sustainable solutions in the seafood industry."

A report released on Thursday ranked Singapore as the third-largest importer (after Hong Kong and Malaysia) and exporter (after Thailand and Hong Kong) of shark's fin out of the 68 countries and territories studied. It imported 14,134 tonnes and exported 11,535 tonnes between 2005 and 2013.

The report by wildlife trade-monitoring network Traffic and nature group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) looked at figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

There are 30 shark and ray species threatened with extinction listed in Appendix I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites); permits are needed for trade in these species. However, the study noted that Singapore did not have species-specific product trade codes for all 30, so trade in the other species might be illegal and unsustainable, but goes unnoticed.

Mr Yio said the association "strictly follows Cites regulations and international laws on endangered species". All shark's fin sold by members - which he estimates at about 90 per cent of what is sold here - is from sustainable sources, he added. The fins are from sharks processed in First World countries with fisheries that are regulated and have restrictions on the amount fished each year, he said.

"Those countries require the sharks to be fully used, so typically, the fins are shipped to Asian markets, and the rest is used in Western countries for dishes like fish and chips. Those fins are not processed on boats by fishermen who cut them off and throw the dead sharks back in the sea. It is the whole shark that's used, not the fins alone."

Said WWF-Singapore spokesman Janissa Ng: "With a quarter of the shark species in the world facing extinction, defining what is sustainable goes beyond quotas and sales practices."

There are no shark fisheries that have been independently certified sustainable; nor are there systems that can track shark products back to the point of harvest, she said.

"The Singapore authorities need to take measures that lead to greater transparency in the global shark trade, such as more robust monitoring of species-specific trade volumes, so there is a clearer picture of whether the trade of certain species is legal and sustainable," she said.

Related post
‘Sustainable’ shark fin sources not exactly sustainable yet Mothership 31 May 17

Read more!

A tiny island off Singapore may hold answers to energy’s future

Today Online 27 May 17;

SINGAPORE — On a small island off the southern coast of Singapore, a French energy company is experimenting with what it hopes will be the future of renewable power storage.

Engie SA is helping build a small, self-contained power grid on Semakau Island to demonstrate the usefulness of hydrogen gas in converting intermittent power from solar panels and wind turbines into stored fuel that can generate electricity days or even months later, when the need is higher.

Plummeting costs for solar and wind are helping renewable energy steal an ever-greater slice of the power generation pie from fossil fuels such as oil and coal. That makes it more and more vital to figure out how to spread out the brief but intense bursts of energy harnessed from the sun and wind to the more diffused needs of consumers. While battery storage has received most of the attention so far, hydrogen has “massive long-term potential,” said Didier Holleaux, executive vice president at Engie.

“Batteries are fine for intraday, or a few hours,” Mr Holleaux said in an interview in Singapore. “But if you produce energy in summer and need it in winter, or need it to last during a few cloudy days, then hydrogen would be the obvious solution.”

To be a solution, though, hydrogen storage costs would have to come down dramatically. A hydrogen-based energy storage system costs about 10 times more than a diesel back-up generator with similar power output, according to a Toshiba Corp. presentation at the World Smart Energy Week in Tokyo in March.

Hydrogen storage is basically a three-step process: electricity powers a chemical process know as electrolysis that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then stored until it’s needed, and is then pumped through fuel cells to generate electricity.

The biggest hurdle to commercial viability is the electrolysis process, Mr Holleaux said. Manufacturers are trying to make the water-splitting equipment cheaper and more efficient, but are probably 10 to 15 years away, Mr Holleaux said.


“If efficiency is low in terms of how much energy is consumed to produce a unit of hydrogen, then it is not that attractive to produce and store hydrogen, regardless of scale,” said I-Chun Hsiao, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The Semakau Island project, which Engie is taking part in along with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and France’s Schneider Electric SE, aims to build demonstration micro-grids that integrate wind, solar, tidal and diesel power along with storage to provide electricity to small island communities not connected to traditional power plants. The micro-grid is expected to be operating by October, with hydrogen storage capabilities added next year, Mr Holleaux said.

Engie sees big opportunities for such micro-grids in Southeast Asia, especially in the Indonesian archipelago, where nearly 1,000 islands have populations that don’t have access to traditional power plants.

“It’s a region that’s open to innovation,” Mr Holleaux said. “Many countries are ready to leapfrog directly from no power at all to a completely decentralised type of power, rather than going through the traditional centralised, interconnected network.” BLOOMBERG

Read more!

Confessions of a wildlife photographer: Shooting animals the right way

Wildlife photographer Kennie Pan says key to taking good pictures is knowing the story you want to tell
Hariz Baharudin The New Paper 29 May 17;

When asked what makes a picture good, award-winning wildlife photographer Kennie Pan is reflective.

The laidback 27-year-old told The New Paper: "It's not just about the gear.

"It is about who you are as a person and what is the story you want to tell."

The words sound more sincere coming from the self-taught shutterbug, who did not let his humble origins stop him from chasing his dream of capturing animals on camera.

Mr Pan said he started out 12 years ago, armed with just a simple entry-level camera he found at home, because he did not have enough money to get a camera of his own.

He studied shots by photographers he admired, thinking about how they got the photos.

"I look at their photos and I feel inspired," he said.

"I knew I probably would not be able to get the shots they got because I don't have the privilege or the money, but I still wanted to try."

Driven by his passion, Mr Pan saved up to go on self-funded expeditions.

His interest has led him to stalking tigers at an Indian safari and seeking out rare kingfishers in the Philippines.

But the images that have won him awards were taken right here in Singapore.

In 2010, Mr Pan nabbed the prestigious grand prize (junior category) in the Biodiversity Wildlife competition.

The photo he took of a long-tailed shrike in a residential area came out on top out of 2,200 photos that were submitted.

Mr Pan got the shot using just a mid-range camera.

He said: "There is wildlife everywhere if you look... Every place has different species. It depends on what you want to shoot."

He was also a finalist at the One Eyeland Photography Awards in 2013.

The year after, he received honourable mentions in the professional category at the International Photography Awards, in the nature-wildlife category.

Whether it is trailing big cats, looking for an elusive snake or finding rare birds, Mr Pan said knowledge about the animals is just as important as the gear. To him, capturing the animals in their natural habitats is his way of offering a peek into their world.

"You have to know why you are photographing them, the story you wish to tell people when you take photos," he said.

"If not, you are just blindly shooting. You are just doing it for the sake of shooting.

"It is better to use your photos to say something."

Read more!

Malaysia: DoE stops RM1.2bil project “The Dubai of Ma­­lay­­sia”


ALOR SETAR: A RM1.2bil mixed de­­velopment project in Kuala Ke­dah, dubbed “The Dubai of Ma­­lay­­sia” has been issued with an immediate stop-work order.

The order against the Aman Laut project was issued by the Depart­ment of Environment (DoE) through a notice dated May 15.

The ambitious project comprises high-end bungalows, chic condominiums, malls and luxury eateries, which will radically change the skyline beside the seafront.

Yesterday, DoE director-general Datuk Dr Ahmad Kamarulnajib Che Ibrahim confirmed that his department had issued the order.

He said the project has yet to obtain the approval of the DoE but workers had started reclamation work at the site.

“This is in accordance with the Section 34AA (2) of the Malaysian Quality Environmental Act 1974 (Amended) 2012 that no work can be carried out prior to getting the approval of the department.

“Only after it has been approved can work be carried out,” he added.

A Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) survey found that an area a distance of about 1km out to sea had been reclaimed and nearly 10ha of mangroves along the coast had been affected.

Kedah Environment Committee chairman Datuk Dr Leong Yong Long said the decision made by the federal department was temporary until further notice.

It was done to protect the coastal and sea environments in the area.

“This is also for the developer to comply with the pre-requirement of an Environmental Impact Assess­ment (EIA) report before proceeding with the project.

“The Kedah government is equally concerned about the EIA and has no objection to the ministerial action pending a full EIA report,” said Dr Leong.

“However, there is some work still going on at the site on the mainland which had already been approved by local authorities.

“This should not be misconstrued as defiance of the stop-work order by the department or the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environ­ment,” he added.

Kedah Housing, as well as Local Government and Water Resources Committee, chairman Datuk Badrol Hisham Hashim said they would speak to the developers and ask them to resubmit the EIA report.

The project, which was also said to transform the skyline of Kuala Kedah fishing town and elevate its residential and business standards, faced protests previously from NGOs and about 1,000 fishermen.

SAM issued a statement in March questioning the work carried out without the approval of the DoE while the fishermen claimed the project would jeopardise their income.

They too called for the project to be stopped, stating that the project had contravened environmental regulations and destroyed the area’s mangroves, adding that this would threaten the coastal fishermen’s livelihoods.

Stop work order issued for Kedah project

ALOR SETAR: Aman Laut, a RM1.2bil mixed development project here dubbed the "Dubai of Malaysia", has been issued with an immediate stop work order.

The order was issued by the Department of Environment (DOE) through a notice dated May 15.

This was confirmed by DOE director-general Datuk Dr Ahmad Kamarulnajib Che Ibrahim.

"The move is in accordance with Section 34AA (2) of the Malaysian Quality Environmental Act 1974 (Amendment) 2012 that no work can be carried out prior to the approval of the department.

"Once it has been approved, only then should construction work be carried out," he said when contacted on Sunday.

The project, which comprises high-end bungalows, chic condominiums, malls and high-end eateries, was meant to transform the state, including the Kuala Kedah fishing town.

However, it was protested against by fishermen, who said the project had jeopardised their income.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 28 May 17

Cerianthid search at Cyrene
wild shores of singapore

Read more!

As sea levels rise, Singapore prepares to stem the tide

Seawalls and rock slopes already protect over 70 per cent of Singapore's coastline. But experts suggest more ways to face the impact of climate change.
TANG FAN XI Straits Times 28 May 17;

With climate change will come rising sea levels, and while Singapore has taken steps to brace itself against the consequences, some experts say more can be done.

Sea levels are projected to rise between 0.25m and 0.76m towards the end of the century, according to Singapore’s Climate Action Plan published in 2016 by the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS).

As a low-lying island, the rise in sea level poses the most immediate climate change threat to Singapore, it said. Much of the country lies only 15m above the mean sea level, with about 30 per cent of the island less than 5m above the mean sea level.

So the authorities have been preparing early to safeguard Singapore.

In 2010, the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) carried out shoreline restoration works to stabilise a section of the beach at East Coast Park. This consisted of large sand-filled bags, laid several metres into the ground to be level with the low tide, helping to reduce sand erosion.

In 2011, the minimum land reclamation level in Singapore was raised from 3m to 4m above the mean sea level.

And last year, Singapore raised the coastal Nicoll Drive in Changi by up to 0.8m.

The BCA is now conducting the Coastal Adaptation Study (CAS), which aims to safeguard the country’s long term coastal protection needs, and is expected to be completed by end 2017.

Today, over 70 per cent of Singapore’s coastline is protected with hard structures such as seawalls and rock slopes. While lauding the efforts, experts have pointed out various ways in which these can be boosted.

Associate Professor of Geography at National University of Singapore (NUS) Wong Poh Poh, who also served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, believes that another approach which could help is the use of amphibious architecture, which he points out is cheaper than raising land or building seawalls. Such buildings stay on the ground during dry times. But when water comes, they float on the surface, while their foundations anchor them to the ground.

He gave the example of amphibious homes in Maasbommel, the Netherlands, which have concrete barges anchoring light timber-frame construction on top.

Prof Wong also feels that Singapore should incorporate more natural methods using mangroves to protect coastlines. He stressed the importance of mangroves which help to dissipate waves and trap sediment, potentially serving as a flexible form of coastal defence while preventing erosion.

“Utilising mangroves is not only less costly, if the process is done carefully, they are still able to be effective in protecting shorelines to keep up with rising sea levels, which hard methods such as sea walls are not able to adapt to,” he said.

Assistant Professor Dan Friess, a mangrove expert at the NUS Department of Geography, explained: “Mangrove restoration isn’t new in Singapore, with examples on Pulau Semakau and Pulau Tekong, and steps are currently underway to assess the potential for restoration on Pulau Ubin too.”

Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the NUS Department of Geography pointed out that not many other countries have “similar constraints” like Singapore in terms of preparing for climate change - given its unique geographical circumstances as a low-latitude island city-state.

More research is needed to look at the impact of climate change on various parts of the urban system, noted Ms Helena Hulsman, associate director of Singapore operations at Deltares, which jointly undertakes applied research in water, subsurface and climate change with NUS under the knowledge alliance NUSDeltares.

Ms Hulsman suggested looking into coastal protection solutions through “building with nature”, giving examples of successful pilot studies of ecologically optimised coastal protection solutions in the Netherlands, using natural processes to increase wave dampening, reduce erosion and enhance soil stability.

Dr Aron Meltzner of Nanyang Technological University’s Earth Observatory of Singapore said there are overseas examples that Singapore can learn from. These include the Maeslant storm surge barrier in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which augments a system of levees and dikes already in place, and the Thames Barrier, which is a movable flood barrier in the River Thames east of Central London.

There were regional fluctuations in sea levels long ago not due to global warming, and that could happen again in the future, exacerbating the effects of sea-level rise, said Dr Meltzner.

Assistant Professor Winston Chow from the NUS Department of Geography said in order to truly combat the problem of rising sea levels, more can also be done to “address the root cause of climate change” by relying more on non-fossil fuel energy sources such as solar energy or hydroelectric energy.

Ms Ria Tan, a nature enthusiast who runs the website, believes that the public and the Government need to have more conversations about these issues and how to solve them.

“I feel that more engagement has to be done in the face of rising sea levels as it is also a pressing issue that Singapore faces. More discussions and attention in this area can better allow agencies to understand the concerns of citizens and educate them on the issue, just like how the issue of water is heavily discussed,” said Ms Tan.

Prof Wong agrees that more open discussions have to be held by the Government with various groups within societies such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizens. He also feels that more people have to be trained to gain an expertise in climate change adaptations.

He said: “There is a lot more work to do if we truly want to combat rising sea levels and climate change."

What other countries are doing


Aerial view of Maavelavaru Island Resort in Maldives. PHOTO: JLL HOTELS & HOSPITALITY GROUP
As the world’s lowest-lying nation - an average of only 1.3m above sea level , Maldives was the first to sign the Kyoto protocol to fight global warming, and has built sea walls constructed of concrete tetrapods surrounding its capital, Male, The Guardian reported

Since 1987, the government has also been reclaiming land. Hulhumale is a reclaimed island that now has hospitals, schools even government buildings built above the rest of Maldives.

The Maldivian government launched shore protection projects in 2015, which involved the construction of two breakwaters and a revetment, a sloping structure built to absorb the energy of incoming water.


Bicycles are seen reflected in the water of a canal in Delft, Netherlands. PHOTO: REUTERS
The Netherlands is a flood-prone country with a quarter of its land below sea level.

This has made flood control critical, and the government has dedicated over €400 million (S$598 million) into flood protection a year.

The nation has built a system of dykes - walls or slopes that regulate water levels, dams and floodgates .

The Maeslant barrier, with two floating gates, each the length of the Eiffel Tower and weighing four times as much, that closes off the New Waterway, a ship canal, in case of a storm tide.
The barrier had to be closed once in 2007, and with the sea-level rise projections, it may have to be closed more often in the future.

The Dutch are also making use of a sea wall to protect Maasvlakte, Europe’s biggest port.
The wall is built using 20,000 concrete cubes, a slope of stones and constructed dunes, at the height of 14m, the maximum projected height of water in the year 2060.

These new storm protections cost €725 million.


Gondolas and boat-taxis drive on the Canale Grande in Venice. PHOTO: AFP
Venice in Italy is facing the pressing problem of slowly sinking into the seas while facing the sea level rise at the same time.

This led to the passing of the MOSE - Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico or the Electromechanical Experimental Module - scheme by the government in 2003 to construct an artificial barrier in the sea which would protect the city from floods.

It cost £3 billion (S$5.4 billion) for construction, with estimated maintenance costs of £8 million (S$14.5 million) per year.

The system consists of 78 giant steel gates with huge panels fixed to concrete bases dug into the sea bed. Compressed air will be pumped into the hollow panels, forcing them to rise when a dangerous high tide is predicted, reported The Telegraph.

The system is currently close being finished. The barriers will be able to support a 3m tide and will protect Venice for a century, according to web magazine CityLab.

The city has also adapted in other ways. Raised walkways are installed-temporarily in busier parts of the city; and businesses block their doors until the water sinks. Sirens sound a warning throughout the city when high tides are forecast with information provided in real-time online, reported The Guardian. Canals are also dredged regularly.

Singapore Underwater: Travel through time and experience rising sea levels with ST’s virtual reality project
Rebecca Pazos Straits Times 28 May 17;

It is year 2500. The Merlion statue overlooking Marina Bay is half submerged. This is because sea levels could have risen by more than 6m, based on projections by scientists.

Hard to imagine what it might look like? Travel through time and see for yourself with The Sunday Times' first virtual reality (VR) project, Singapore Underwater.

You can experience it here:

The project looks at the possible long-term impact of climate change and rising sea levels on Singapore.

Through VR , readers can experience for themselves scenarios that might otherwise be too distant in the future to imagine.

Still think climate change affects only future generations?

The project and accompanying essays also look at the more immediate impact we are already experiencing, from dry spells to unpredictable rainfalls.

To give a more complete picture, the essays also highlight the measures that Singapore and other countries have put in place to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels.

The VR project, created by the ST Digital team, uses web VR technology. This means it can be viewed on desktops, smart phones and tablets - just like a regular webpage - without having to download an app to view it.

But for the full immersive experience, readers are encouraged to use a VR headset or viewer.

ST will be giving away 300 Google VR Cardboards to readers. Be among the first to register at

Read more!

480 new species discovered in Singapore

Almost 150 species are world firsts; almost 20 rediscovered here over past five years
Lin Yangchen Straits Times 27 May 17;

Over the last five years, more than 480 new species of plants and animals have been discovered in Singapore by the National Parks Board (NParks), researchers and naturalists. And almost 150 of those are world firsts.

The agency also said yesterday that almost 20 species of plants and animals had been rediscovered here over the last five years.

NParks has also put the afterburners on its Species Recovery Programme, increasing the number of species to 94, up from 46 last year.

Other than that, the largest biodiversity survey by the public and plans for a new park connector in Thomson were two other causes for celebration at this year's Festival of Biodiversity organised by the agency.

The two-day festival, launched at Nex shopping mall in Serangoon yesterday by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, includes free art-and-craft workshops, a nature-inspired art exhibition, talks by local conservationists and guided walks in nature reserves around Singapore.

It is a collaboration between NParks and some 30 partners - including universities, schools and non-governmental organisations - to encourage appreciation of Singapore's natural heritage.

The festival is also the culmination of a week of activities organised by NParks, among which was a nationwide wildlife survey that involved nearly 3,000 members of the public at 84 sites.

It recorded almost 900 species of plants and animals from both land and sea, including a coral species new to Singapore.

Previous public surveys only involved one site at a time and far fewer participants, said NParks.

To ensure that species have access to suitable habitat, NParks undertakes projects to enhance natural areas around Singapore.

For example, the agency announced yesterday that one lane of Old Upper Thomson Road would be converted into a park connector by early 2019.


Seeing the animals for themselves in the forest, gets to them. And they realise they can actually do something about it. They get inspired when they see young people like us who are doing our bit.

MS CHLOE TAN, 28, who organises nature walks, public library roadshows and school talks for the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement, an independent group of nature lovers.
The road runs between the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and a patch of forest that will become Thomson Nature Park, and will become a one-way drive.

NParks said this would create a more conducive environment for both wildlife and park users.

Mr Desmond Lee, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and National Development, who attended the event, said: "While we marvel at our rich biodiversity, we cannot take it for granted. Conservation requires a long-term effort."

He added that as Singapore's conservation efforts bear fruit, there would be more human-wildlife encounters, and highlighted the importance of educating the public and developing new ways to manage human-wildlife issues.

Independent wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, 53, was heartened by the predominance of young leaders and volunteers taking on such roles. "We need youngsters to speak out, because it's their future," he said.

One of the participants is Ms Chloe Tan, 28, who organises nature walks, public library roadshows and school talks for the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement, an independent group of nature lovers.

She signed up when one of her tutors at the National University of Singapore needed someone to help set up the group's website.

She said many of the young volunteers are life sciences students, but there are also those who join nature walks and get converted.

"Seeing the animals for themselves in the forest, gets to them. And they realise they can actually do something about it. They get inspired when they see young people like us who are doing our bit," said Ms Tan.

Found: Rare orchid and secretive snake

Despite decades of biodiversity surveys - all the way back to the great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in the 19th century - new species are still being found. More than 500 animal and plant species were discovered or rediscovered in Singapore over the last five years, the National Parks Board (NParks) revealed yesterday at its annual Festival of Biodiversity.

One of them, a solitary carpenter bee, has been given the name "sayang", meaning "love" in Malay, on account of a heart-shaped marking on its back. Ceratina sayang, which lives alone in holes bored in wood, was found in a bloom of giant orchids in Dairy Farm Nature Park in 2014. At Bukit Timah Nature Reserve last year, an NParks staff stumbled upon an orchid, Acriopsis ridleyi, that had not been seen since 1889. Not taking any chances, the agency took it for propagation at the National Orchid Garden nursery.

One of the latest discoveries was made during a survey at Sisters' Islands Marine Park last week, when National University of Singapore Assistant Professor Huang Danwei discovered the coral Favites vasta in Singapore for the first time.

He was guiding members of the public taking part in one of the nationwide surveys, or BioBlitzes, by NParks.

Other discoveries include a tree that had been standing in the former Warren Golf & Country Club for years but was identified only in 2012 during the construction of NUS' University Town, and a secretive snake that leads a muddy existence in Nee Soon Swamp Forest. Both are new records for Singapore.

NParks said some of these species may play crucial but hidden roles in maintaining Singapore's natural habitats, and has taken measures to enhance their populations or protect their habitats.


Number of species in NParks' Species Recovery Programme.

Read more!

Malaysia: Puntung, one of Malaysia's last Sumatran rhinos, is dying of cancer

AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 28 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Puntung, one of Malaysia's last surviving Sumatran rhinos, is now at death's door.

The female rhino has been diagnosed with squamous cell cancer, which has been spreading rapidly over the last few weeks.

Specialists from various countries have all delivered the same devastating verdict: with or without treatment, the cancer will be fatal for the 25-year-old rhino.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga, announcing this, said that as of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril.

"She can also no longer vocalise. She is in pain and her condition is declining fast.

"Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do," he said.

Tuuga said the department has been left with little choice but to make a very difficult decision.

"We are left with no other recourse except to agree with professional medical advice and accordingly, we have authorised euthanasia."

"This was a very difficult decision to make, but the specialists agree that on balance, this is the best out of a very small number of unpleasant choices," he said.

The euthanasia will be done on June 15.

In April, Puntung underwent an operation to extract two molars and a premolar from the upper left side of her jaw, which had been causing severe abscess.

The surgery was performed by veterinary dentist Dr Tum Chinkangsadarn from Thailand, who found that the source of the abscess was a formation caused by an accumulation of bacteria on the severely-calcified molars.

The calcification also loosened two adjacent teeth.

Tuuga said it turned out that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted them to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin.

"After the surgery, the swelling progressed, and two subsequent biopsies revealed squamous cell carcinoma," explained Tuuga.

Sabah is home to only three out of the last few critically-endangered Sumatran rhinos. The remaining numbers are in Indonesia.

Puntung, another female rhino Iman, and male Kertam, are being cared by a non-governmental organisation, Borneo Rhino Alliance, at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

Puntung was captured in 2011. It was subsequently established that she was the last remaining wild rhino in the Reserve.

The loss of Puntung would prove to be a catastrophic loss to the future of the species as at 25-years-old, she still has a few years of egg production left to be used for in-vitro fertilisation.

Puntung, the Sumatran rhino, is dying
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 28 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: All hope of saving Puntung – one of the remaining three Sumatran rhinos in Sabah – is gone after veterinarians confirmed that she is dying of squamous cell cancer.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung had earlier undergone dental surgery, which was believed could save her and her species.

However, euthanasia is now being considered.

“We thought that we had saved her from her life-threatening dental infection a few months ago.

“But now, it turns out that that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted us to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin,” he said when contacted.

He said the swelling on Puntung’s cheek had progressed after her surgery and two subsequent biopsies revealed she has squamous cell carcinoma.

Tuuga said the cancer has been spreading rapidly over the past few weeks and specialists from several countries agree that it would be fatal – with or without treatment.

“As of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril. She can no longer vocalise, she is in pain and her condition is declining fast.

“Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do,” he said.

Veterinarians and other specialists are now making preparations to perform Oocyte retrieval (the process of collecting mature eggs directly from a female’s ovaries, prior to their release from ovarian follicles) on Puntung.

If the procedure is succesful, Puntung may be able to contribute to the survival of her species.

Sabah’s Sumatran rhino population has dwindled to just three specimens in captivity, with the animal considered extinct in the wild.

Puntung to be put to sleep
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 29 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: There will be only two Sumatran rhinos left in Sabah when the third will be put to sleep next month.

Puntung, which recently underwent dental surgery, was expected to recover from what was thought to be a tooth infection.

However Puntung is dying of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a form of cancer characterised by uncontrolled cell growth in the upper layers of the skin.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung, which is currently receiving palliative care, is expected to be euthanised on June 15.

“We thought we had saved her from her life-threatening dental infection a few months ago.

“But it turned out that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted us to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin,” he said.

After the swelling on her cheek grew following the surgery, two subsequent biopsies revealed she had SCC, which has been spreading rapidly over the past few weeks.

“As of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril. She can no longer vocalise, is in pain, and her condition is declining fast.

“Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do,” said Tuuga, who revealed that specialists from several countries said the outcome would be fatal, with or without treatment.

“Authorising euthanasia is one of the most difficult decisions to make, but it is the best option for the suffering animal,” he added.

Veterinarians are now making preparations to recover mature eggs from Puntung’s ovaries so that an artificial breeding programme can be carried out.

Those who have been involved in taking care of Puntung, especially the Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) and the Sime Darby Foundation, were devastated by the news.

Bora executive director Dr John Payne said Bora accepted the opinion of experts that any form of conventional treatment would just prolong Puntung’s agony.

Payne thanked all those involved in monitoring Puntung in the wild since 2007, as well for her care since her capture and translocation in 2011.

Sabah’s Sumatran rhino population consists of a male called Tam, and two females, Puntung and Iman. Previous attempts to get Puntung and Iman to mate with Tam were unsuccessful as the uterus of both female rhinos were lined with cysts.

The animal is already considered extinct in the wild, even though the rest of the surviving population, estimated to be only several dozen, are believed to be still roaming the Kalimantan side of Indonesia.

Experts to harvest rhino’s eggs
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 30 may 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Experts from Germany are expected to arrive in the middle of June to harvest the eggs and skin cells from Puntung, the cancer-ridden Sumatran rhino that will be euthanised soon.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the eggs and skin cells would enable an artificial breeding programme to be carried out in future to save the species, which is already consider­ed extinct in Sabah as the animal has not been spotted in the wild for the past seven years.

“We are doing whatever is possible to save our rhinos,” he said.

Puntung suffers from late stage squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a form of cancer characterised by uncontrolled growth of cells in the upper layers of the skin.

Puntung is expected to be euthanised on June 15, as specialist advice from several countries said her condition was terminal.

Puntung, being among the three remaining captive rhinos in Sabah, can no longer vocalise or breathe through her left nostril, and is deteriorating fast.

Veterinarians are administering painkillers to enable her to be as pain-free as possible.

According to Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), which has funded rhino conservation in Sabah, Puntung’s fate should be a lesson for all, with YSD chairman Tun Musa Hitam saying the bleak situation calls for a lot of soul-searching.

“Future generations would certainly blame us for failing to save this species from extinction,” the former deputy prime minister said, adding that those involved in conservation efforts should reflect on the situation, especially after the Sabah Wildlife Department, Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) and YSD collaborated to save Puntung since her discovery in 2009.

Bora executive director Datuk Dr John Payne said advanced reproductive and cellular technologies might be the only methods left to ensure the survival of the species.

Sabah’s Sumatran rhino population now consists of a male called Tam, and two females, Puntung and Iman.

Previous attempts to get Puntung and Iman to mate with Tam were unsuccessful as the female rhinos’ uteruses are lined with cysts.

The surviving Sumatran rhino population, estimated at only seve­ral dozens, still roam Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Puntung's condition a lesson for all, says Musa Hitam
New Straits Times 29 May 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: The terminal condition faced by Puntung, should be a lesson to all off the dire straits facing Sumatran rhinoceros.

Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) Chairman Tun Musa Hitam, in expressing his regret and sorrow about Puntung’s condition, said those related to the conservation efforts should reflect on the present situation.

“After spending so much time and funding to conserve the Sumatran rhinoceros since 2009, I regret that it has come to this and let this be a lesson to all those related to the efforts as well as the world at large.

“This is a very sad development. Future generations would certainly blame us for failing to save this species from extinction,” Musa said today.

Puntung, one of the three remaining Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia, is suffering from a squamous cell carcinoma in her left cheek.

It is learnt that the cancer is spreading rapidly and Puntung will not survive much longer, even with treatment.

The state government has authorised euthanasia on Puntung, after deliberation with experts.

YSD had worked with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) to save the Sumatran rhinoceros in Sabah over the past eight years up to February this year, including the rescue, translocation and care of Puntung, with an allocation of RM13.8 million.

With Puntung’s death imminent, there will only be two Sumatran rhinoceros left in Malaysia.

BORA Executive Director Dr John Payne, as of yesterday, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril nor vocalise. She is in pain and her condition is declining rapidly.

“This is devastating news for all of those who have been involved in Puntung’s life over the past ten years, from those in SOS Rhino who monitored her wild in the Tabin forests since 2007, those who captured her in 2011 and those who cared for her daily and still care for her right up to now,” he said.

He added that BORA’s staff, who have had Puntung under intensive care over the past two months, have been shocked by the very visible rapid growth in the size of the carcinoma.

From 2009 to February 2017, YSD had spent RM13.8 million towards conserving the Sumatran rhinoceros, with funds channeled towards an artificial reproductive technology (ART) programme to help breed the Sumatran rhinoceros and help save the species from extinction.

Currently, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve is caring for two female Sumatran rhinoceros – Puntung and Iman – as well as a male rhino – Tam.

Since 2009, YSD has committed RM131 million towards the protection of high conservation value ecosystems, vulnerable and endangered species as well as initiatives promoting the preservation of the environment and biodiversity.

Dedicated breeding programme only hope for Sumatran rhino: WWF
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 30 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: An animal conservation programme dedicated to breeding Sumatran rhinos is crucial to prevent the critically-endangered species from going extinct.

World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF) executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said while the species is extinct in the wild in Malaysia, there is still hope for the rhino in Indonesia.

He concedes, however, that organising a breeding programme would be difficult.

“Experts have estimated that the current population in Indonesia is likely to be less than 100 individuals scattered in small, isolated groups in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“The population is so thinly spread out that breeding is believed to be minimal, which means that this species could go extinct within the next ten years, if not sooner,” he said in a statement

He added that the case of Puntung, one of the last rhinos in Sabah, which is awaiting euthanasia due to terminal skin cancer, is a wake-up call.

Dionysius called upon the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia, and all Sumatran rhinoceros conservation organisations, to work together as a dedicated team.

He added that the focus of Sumatran rhinoceros conservation should be on rescuing all remaining wild individuals for management in advanced facilities; increasing the number of births; and facilitating the movement of individuals and gametes among facilities as a population management tool.

The application of advanced reproductive technology (ART), as advocated by Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) – which is currently being attempted with renowned international reproductive scientists – remains the best bet to ensure that the species will be saved.

Meanwhile, the WWF Network Executive Team (NET) has mandated the creation of a Sumatran rhino working group, comprising representatives from WWF-Indonesia and partner offices, with the goal of pushing Sumatran rhino conservation to the top of the agenda of relevant governments, and to seek a common approach and agreements among all NGOs working on Sumatran rhino conservation.

Read more!

Malaysia: Tapir trapped in swamp rescued

The Star 28 May 17;

BALING: A 100kg tapir injured itself when it fell into a swamp at an oil palm plantation.

“It looked very tired,” said villager Zakaria Senawi, 65, after the animal was rescued.

He believed that the tapir had lost its way before it fell into the swamp in Kampung Charok Kelian here.

The herbivorous mammal, with injuries to its head and eyes, was found by the villagers at about 8.30am yesterday.

Baling District Civil Defence Force officer Mohd Faizol Ab. Aziz said they received a distress call at about 9.10am.

“The animal, weighing about 100kg, is believed to have been separated from its group,” he said. “It was exhausted, probably due to hunger.”

Mohd Faizol said four of his personnel, together with the help of firemen, wildlife officers and villagers, took about 30 minutes to pull the tapir out from the swamp.

It was later handed over to the state Wildlife Department.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 27 May 17

Cerianthid search at Changi
wild shores of singapore

Reefy Changi still alive
wild shores of singapore

Mating Pygmy Squids
Hantu Blog

Read more!

Singapore has to manage population growth carefully: PM Lee

Lee Li Ying Channel NewsAsia 27 May 17;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has to manage the population carefully, even as it grapples with its low fertility rate and the issue of having a stable population, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (May 27).

Mr Lee said that with the country's total fertility rate at about 1.3, Singaporeans are far from replacing themselves. About 30,000 babies are born as citizens every year and, to top up, about 20,000 foreigners become new citizens annually.

With about 50,000 new citizens every year, Singapore can "almost sustain a stable population", he added.

But it is not all about the numbers.

Mr Lee said: "We have to manage the inflow carefully, and make sure that the people who come can integrate into our society, make sure they have the abilities and skills to contribute to our economy, and make sure their hearts are in the right place and they will become good Singaporeans. We are a country, not simply a city or an economy."

The prime minister was speaking at the citizenship ceremony on Saturday, which saw 150 residents from Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West SMC officially became Singaporeans and presented with their citizenship certificates.

He also congratulated the new citizens and urged them to continue to deepen their roots here.

Read more!

Far from people’s minds, but food security a looming issue

SIAU MING EN Today Online 27 May 17;

SINGAPORE — In the eyes of many, Singapore is a food paradise.

When hunger pangs strike, affordable food is readily available: Hawker centres, coffee shops, eateries, and supermarkets - chock full of fruits, meat, vegetables and all other kinds of food - dot the island, with many operating around the clock. One need not even step out of the house to get food, given the array of delivery services.

With such abundance of food - indeed managing food waste is a headache for policymakers - food security is probably the last thing on Singaporeans’ minds. An irony, some experts noted, given that more than 90 per cent of the food needed to feed the Republic’s population comes from overseas.

“Supermarkets are full of food… (but) Singapore (becomes) very vulnerable when there are major disturbances to the production of food,” said Professor Paul Teng, a food security expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). “In that sense, it’s easy (for Singaporeans) to get a false sense of food security... If there is a big pandemic tomorrow, nobody can move (food) around, how is Singapore going to react?”

Earlier this month, the issue of food security came under the spotlight, when the Government announced that new plots of farm land with longer leases have been set aside to promote high-tech farming. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong noted that growing food locally is another way to enhance food security, apart from diversifying Singapore’s food sources.

Food security has shot to the top of many countries’ agenda in recent years, due to the havoc on farmlands caused by climate change, explosive growth of the middle class in Asia and the resulting spike in food consumption, as well as unpredictable geo-politics and international relations - to name but a few factors. Over the past decade, the Government has embarked on extensive efforts to diversify its food sources. As a result, Singapore today imports food from 170 countries, up from 160 in 2007, according to data from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA). Over the same period, the number of countries from which Singapore imports fish increased from 70 to 80, for example, while the figure for fruit imports went up from 40 to 60.

Malaysia and Brazil are the top sources, with substantial supply from several other regional countries: More than a third (35 per cent) of Singapore’s supply of chicken, 17 per cent of fish, 93 per cent of duck and 76 per cent of eggs come from across the Causeway. Brazil accounts for almost half (47 per cent) of Singapore’s imported chicken, 30 per cent of pork, and 53 per cent of beef. Vietnam, India and Thailand are the major suppliers of rice to Singapore. In terms of fish imports, Indonesia (21 per cent) and Vietnam (20 per cent) are the other the main sources, although 77 other countries provide 42 per cent of Singapore’s supply.

While Singapore’s food security is not under any immediate threat, experts stressed the need for policymakers to start relooking its strategy - including ramping up domestic supply - in light of evolving global trends. While Singapore has a sound policy of building resilience in its food supplies, more needs to be done in an increasingly uncertain and volatile external environment, they said. “To talk about food security at (this) point in time without recognising (Singapore’s) vulnerability is kidding ourselves,” said Prof Teng, who stressed the need for better risk management by having key food sources that are more geographically diverse.

Policymakers will need to come up with new strategies, said Associate Professor Christopher Vas from Murdoch University. “They say, when things are not broken, don’t try and fix it... But as things continue to evolve, bilateral relations might get tenuous, sources of supply could be challenged,” said Assoc Prof Vas, who noted the risks of over-reliance on a country for one particular product.


In recent years, there was no shortage of global food scares and supply disruptions.

During the 2007 and 2008 global food crisis, which was caused by a myriad of factors including droughts and rising oil prices, Singaporeans had to pay more for food, as prices of imported food spiked 12.1 per cent on average. The authorities stepped in by reassuring the public that there was ample supply - including a two-month stockpile that rice importers are required to keep in government warehouses - and advised people against hoarding rice. Help was also on hand for less well-to-do families.

In 2014, prices of eggs rose when Malaysian farms were suspended from exporting eggs to Singapore after their eggs had been found to contain Salmonella Enteritidis — a bacterium that causes food poisoning. Most recently, Brazil was involved in a rotten-meat scandal in March, after its police found that major meatpackers had bribed health inspectors to keep rotten meat on the market.

Gradually, climate change and changing dietary preferences would tilt the balance of global food demand and supply, the experts said.

One of the biggest changes in the global food security landscape has been the dependency on trade for countries to secure their food supplies, noted Prof Teng, an adjunct senior fellow at RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies. “Even in the most secure countries like the US, they also import food.

The reason is that no country produces everything it wants, mainly because the consumers, the society, has gotten more diverse in its demands for food,” he said.

This is particularly so in countries where a middle-class population is growing quickly, he added.
Globally, more protein is being consumed by people. To meet this demand, countries have to import even more animal feed, such as corn and soybeans, from countries in the Western Hemisphere.

On the supply side, there is also declining land and water resources for farming - the latter partly due to contaminated water, and the longer dry seasons or late monsoons which are symptoms of climate change.

Farmers around the world are also growing older but not enough millennials are willing to take over the job.

“The net result is that, from year to year, we’re not as certain of our food supplies as previously,” Prof Teng warned.

Apart from health scares, RSIS research fellow Tamara Nair, who does work on food security and hunger in the region, pointed out that geopolitical tensions and developments in countries where Singapore import food from could disrupt its supplies and affect prices, given how inter-connected the world is today. “Any socio-political tension in one of our major source countries will inevitably affect us in one way or another. They might decide to temporarily stop exports for instance, which can affect our supply briefly, at least until we activate our other sources,” she said. Neverthelesss, she noted that while there is rising protectionist sentiments, food trade is unlikely to suffer given that all countries benefit from it.

Apart from diversifying food sources, Professor William Chen, the director of Nanyang Technological University’s food, science and technology programme, noted the need to uphold food safety as well through stringent regulations. In extreme cases, food imports could potentially be used as a weapon if countries let their guard down, he said. “It is very important that we can pre-empt rather than react,” he said. This means developing new technology to detect suspicious substances in food, he added.


Despite its high dependence on food imports, Singapore is regarded as one of the most food-secure countries around the world.

In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index last year, Singapore slipped one position to third compared with the 2015 rankings. The index measures the affordability, availability, quality and safety of food in over 100 countries.

“There is plenty of food (in Singapore), because it is affordable... People have access to clean food, safe food and can eat more than three times a day if they want,” said Dr Cecilia Tortajada, a senior research fellow at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “The only way for Singapore to be unsecured (in food supplies) is if all trade fails.”

Still, other experts including Prof Teng argued that Singapore’s food security has to be measured more holistically, and take into account the Republic’s ability to withstand disruptions to its food supplies.

Working with Syngenta Asia Pacific and Frontier Strategy Group, he helped develop the Rice Bowl Index which measures the “robustness” of countries’ food security. Singapore fared poorly because it is unable to produce a significant amount of agricultural products domestically. “It is based on a concept of robustness, and what robustness means is the ability to withstand disturbances to your food security system,” he said.

The global food crisis in 2007 and 2008 prompted the Singapore authorities to conduct a study to analyse the country’s food supply resilience.

In recent years, they have conducted sourcing trips abroad and started the practice of overseas contract farming. An example was the Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone in northeastern China.

First mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2008, the idea was for AVA to provide technical advice to the Jilin authorities to maintain a disease-free zone and subsequently, diversify Singapore’s food sources by regularly exporting key food items to the Republic.
But the 1,450 sq km food zone – roughly double the size of Singapore – has been hit by delays.

An integrated pig farm was initially slated to start exporting pork to Singapore by the end of 2014 but construction works for the project only began last month. As the zone’s first livestock project, it is expected to rear up to one million pigs, of which, some will be exported to Singapore.

Nevertheless, the initiative exported its first product to Singapore towards the end of last year, with the Fragrance 43ºN japonica rice being sold at FairPrice Xtra and FairPrice Finest outlets.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, Mr Yeo Chun Cheng, Ascendas-Singbridge Group executive vice-president of sustainable urban development, said the integrated pig farming project will be developed in two phases and the first batch of pork is expected to reach Singapore by 2019.

Other ongoing projects include a processing plant for cheese-related products.

Mr Yeo said: “There is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling food security and safety, but we hope that the Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone will prove to be a strong component of that solution by promising to produce safe, sustainable and high-quality food for Singapore.”

Farms here provide less than 10 per cent of Singapore’s overall food supply - namely fish, vegetables and eggs. Some experts felt there is scope to double it.

To that end, AVA has also urged local growers to invest in technology to maximise their agricultural produce, which is meant to be a buffer when overseas food supplies are disrupted.

Earlier this month, the Government announced that it would be releasing 60ha of land in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah for farms to boost the local food supply. This comes as the leases of 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang will expire in 2019.

The Government’s long-standing targets are for local farmers to provide 30 per cent of Singapore’s supply of eggs, 15 per cent of fish and 10 per cent of leafy vegetables. But the farms here have so far fallen short on two counts: They are producing 24 per cent of eggs and 10 per cent of fish. Nevertheless, the target for leafy vegetables has been exceeded (12 per cent).


Responding to TODAY’s queries, Mr Melvin Chow, group director of AVA’s food supply resilience group, reiterated that given its heavy dependence on food imports, Singapore is “considerably exposed” to global price and supply fluctuations, as well as persistent threats of food supply disruption and food contamination internationally.

The country is also vulnerable to global driving factors, such as population growth, rising urbanisation and incomes, climate change, disease outbreaks and scarcity of resources, he added. “These trends are intensifying, and their interplay is heightening food security challenges more than ever,” he said.

To overcome these challenges, the AVA adopts three strategies: Food source diversification, internationalisation and local production.

Diversifying food sources would mitigate disruptions to food supply from a particular region, which can be caused by extreme weather and climate events. “By buying from many different sources, Singapore is better buffered against potential food shortages and price volatility,” said Mr Chow.

AVA said it is constantly exploring new overseas sources of food, provided that their internal food safety standards meet its criteria. Some new food sources include Sarawak where Singapore has been importing frozen pork from since 2015. Other examples include importing quail eggs from Malaysia since last year and hen eggs from Thailand from this year.

By venturing overseas, local farmers can open up new markets and overcome the land constraints in Singapore. They can also help enhance Singapore’s food security by, for instance, exporting their produce back to the Republic. Having our local food producers successfully operating overseas will strengthen our food security,” said Mr Chow. He cited the examples two local farms which have gone to other countries to develop vertical farms: Apollo Aquaculture in Brunei, and Sky Greens in Thailand and China.

Turning to the local agricultural production in Singapore, Mr Chow said this remains an important aspect of food security and forms a “crucial buffer” should overseas food supplies be disrupted.

AVA has been working with farmers to raise production through modern practices and technology, improve productivity, manage animal diseases, monitor water quality and promote local produce to consumers.

Farmers can also tap on AVA’s S$63million Agriculture Productivity Fund to modernise and invest in innovative technologies and advanced farming systems.

While these strategies have served Singapore well, Mr Chow said AVA will continue to “review current measures and develop new ones”. “We recognise that understanding and building resilience to the effects of climate change is an on-going effort,” he added.


With local growers producing less than 10 per cent of Singapore’s overall food supply, Assoc Prof Vas felt that farms here can meet up to 20 per cent of the country’s needs. While raising domestic agricultural produce would strengthen the country’s food security, the authorities need to also take into account the farmers’ business considerations, said Assoc Prof Vas, who is the director of the Singapore Centre for Research in Innovation, Productivity and Technology.

Adequate leases are needed to give farmers more certainty and this in turn, would enable them to invest in research and development, he added.

“I don’t think we’ve maximised our (potential) at all and for the longest time, Singapore has been dependent on the supply chain,” he said, adding that Singapore is a perfect laboratory for agri-tech ventures.

Beyond national strategies, Dr Tortajada said that attitudes have to change as well, in order to enhance Singapore’s food security. Citing the problem of food waste, she called for more investments in public education. “(Food wastage) is putting more pressure on the planet, in terms of land and water and you pollute more to bring food to the people who will throw it,” she said.

Last year, Singapore generated 791,000 tonnes of food waste. Of this amount, only 14 per cent was recycled.

Some experts pointed out that Singapore faces similar vulnerabilities when it comes to food and water. And while both are considered strategic resources critical to national security, there appears to be greater impetus from the Government to strive for self-sufficiency in water.

Others, such as Dr Nair and Prof Chen, however, pointed out that the approach has to be different, Unlike water, there is a variety of food items, they noted.

“How would you use the same policy as you would with water when you are dealing with so many different sources and the commodities are so varied?” said Dr Nair. Still, Prof Chen added: “But for food, we really take (it) for granted. There’s so much wastage.”

Going forward, Prof Teng argued that food security should be given the same priority. “Singapore securitised water... many, many decades ago... (But) with food, I would argue that we have not securitised food at all,” he said.

Singapore farmers seek greener pastures abroad, and the Republic could be better off for it
SIAU MING EN Today Online 27 May 17;

SINGAPORE — When Apollo Aquaculture Group chief executive officer Eric Ng realised his fish farm lease in Lim Chu Kang would expire in 2019, the 44-year-old started looking for an overseas alternative.

“Land is very limited here, and the cost of setting up a farm in Singapore is very high… But Brunei has vast land and abundance of sea water,” he said.

Now, he owns a plot of land in Brunei that can produce up to 5,000 tonnes of trouts, groupers, snappers and sea bass when it is eventually operating at full capacity within the next five years. In comparison, he produces about 110 tonnes of fish a year from his farms in Singapore.

The fish farmer was spurred to venture overseas after a trip to Israel about seven years ago, where he accompanied the Singapore authorities overseas to learn about the Israeli’s fish farming technologies.

“We were in the middle of a desert… but if (the Israeli farmers) were asked to leave the place – Israel is always at war – these farmers would be able to pack up overnight and set up the farm at another place to continue farming,” he said.

“That really inspired me to really think about how to make things mobile… The knowledge in creating an environment suitable for the products that you are trying to grow or farm, I think once you have that know-how and soft skill, it’s going to enable you to do a lot more that you can think of,” he said.

Mr Ng is one of a handful of Singaporean growers that have started farming on foreign land, a suggestion some experts felt could help Singapore strengthen its food resilience by securing more sources of food.

Professor Paul Teng, a food security expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), felt that Singapore could turn to countries which consistently have agricultural surpluses for contract farming, so that there are better chances of importing food from them during a crisis. These countries include the United States, Argentina and Australia.

However, Professor William Chen, the director of Nanyang Technological University’s food, science and technology programme, pointed out that such a practice was not fail-safe. “If you rely on other people’s land, there is always a risk that the relationship turns sour,” he added.

Even without formal contracts, some Singaporean farmers have ventured overseas.

Former civil servant Lai Poon Piau, 52, recalled how he had to settle for plain prata after the roti prata stall near VivoCity ran out of eggs a few years back, due to the global food crisis which saw prices of food shoot up. It was then that he realised how vulnerable Singapore was, in terms of food security.

Seeking to reconnect with his farming roots - both his father and grandfather owned plantations - Mr Lai eventually acquired 80ha of land in Kampot, Cambodia in 2010 and started farming peppercorns three years later.

Out of the 50 tonnes of pepper he produces each year, only 100kg is being exported to specialty stores and restaurants in Singapore. But he is gradually trying to build up his distribution channels for export. “I would like to sell all of it to Singapore if I can… Eventually, the idea is to use Singapore as a hub to export (my pepper) to other parts of Asia as well,” he said.

For the Singaporean father-and-son pair behind 5th Element, a retail store in Ho Chi Minh City selling organic produce from their 4ha farm in Da Lat, Vietnam, their goal has always been to produce food for Singapore.

Mr Patrick Low, 28, said: “Food security is the main reason we’re in this business as we believe that every individual has the right to safe, chemical-free produce and foodstuff.”

Their farm grows 120 varieties of fruits and vegetables, and harvests 15 to 20 tonnes of processed produce each month.

While the Government has been pushing for high-tech agriculture in Singapore, Mr Low said traditional methods should not be discounted as well, particularly on overseas land that have fertile and suitable climates.

The authorities could also provide technological support for instance, to help improve productivity and raise the quality of the produce grown by Singaporean farmers overseas, he added.

More can also be done by the Government to fund international research and technological developments in farming, some experts said.

Prof Teng noted that Singapore has been slow to support global work on this front, as there are no immediate benefits to local farms. “But we cannot be so short-sighted,” he said. Singapore could indirectly benefit should exporting countries remain productive in agriculture and have sufficient surpluses to export, he pointed out.

Read more!