Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jan 17

Ubin with the RUMblers
wild shores of singapore

Changi Creek and Sungei Ubin after the oil spill
wild shores of singapore

Night Walk At Pasir Ris Town Park (20 Jan 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Snubnose Pompano (Trachinotus blochii) @ Changi
Monday Morgue

Read more!

Singapore has strict criteria for sand imports, says Government, as controversy over Cambodian imports brews

SIAU MING EN Today Online 23 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE ­— The Republic stopped importing sand from Cambodia after a ban took effect in November last year, said the Ministry of National Development (MND) as the issue of sand imports once again takes the spotlight.

Responding to media queries, the MND also stressed that Singapore sets strict criteria for imports of sand, including on environmental protection, but reiterated that sand is imported on a commercial basis and it is the contractors who must meet the criteria. It also said that Singapore has not come across any illegal shipments of sand here.

In Nov, Cambodian authorities reportedly temporarily halted sand exports by companies that hold valid permits after local activists found discrepancies in the export and import trade data from the United Nations. The data showed that Singapore reported 73.6 million tonnes in sand imports from Cambodia since 2007. Yet the Cambodian government reported that only 2.7 million tonnes left for Singapore.

The extraction and export of Cambodian sand has been controversial, as firms allegedly extract sand in defiance of quotas, destroying coastal mangrove systems in the process and affecting the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

Aside from Cambodia, Singapore also imports sand from the Philippines and Myanmar, according to media reports.

Earlier this month, the Cambodian Daily reported that Mother Nature, a non-governmental organisation, was exploring bringing lawsuits against government agencies and companies involved in sand exports to Singapore.

The MND said the Government does not condone any trade or extraction of sand that breaches the source countries’ laws and regulations, and contractors “must source sand from legally permissible areas, comply with all the environmental protection laws of the source country, and have the proper sand export documentation and permits from the relevant authorities in the source countries”.

On the discrepancy in sand trade figures, the MND spokesperson said they are unable to verify this as the figures reported by various parties and countries are dependent on their own calculation formulas that the ministry is not privy to.

She also noted that Singapore has not encountered instances of smuggled sand, or contractors bringing sand into Singapore carrying fake export permits. “The authorities will investigate any such instances and take enforcement action, if evidence is provided,” she added.

Sand is often used in the construction industry to produce cement or used for land reclamation. According to a 2014 United Nations Environment Programme report, Singapore is the largest importer of sand worldwide.

The volumes of sand imported annually into Singapore vary according to the availability of sand and the requirements of the reclamation and construction projects, said the MND. No figures breaking down the uses of sand in Singapore were available.

Speaking to TODAY, Mother Nature co-founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson said in Cambodia that quotas are on how much sand mining companies can extract, but the companies tend to exceed this as there are no checks and law enforcement.

He also claimed that Cambodian government agencies had “wilfully assisted” these companies by turning a blind eye to violations of regulations or issue documents that do not represent the full amount of sand that was being exported.

The MND said that as sand is not a natural resource in Singapore, it would be “highly challenging” to achieve self-sufficiency. Nonetheless, Singapore has been exploring alternative methods, such as recycling excavated materials from the construction industry to replace a proportion of sand in some reclamation projects, said the spokesperson. The reclamation project in Pulau Tekong will also use a method called empoldering to reduce the amount of sand needed.


Singapore’s sand imports have sparked controversy over the years, with environmental activists pointing to the environmental impact from the extraction process.

Malaysia imposed a ban on sand exports in 1997, but Malaysian media have previously reported instances of sand smuggling, allegedly destined for Singapore.

In 2007, Indonesia announced a ban on the export of land sand to Singapore, citing concerns that sand extraction activities were leading to environmental degradation. At the time, 90 per cent of Singapore’s sand imports came from Indonesia, and the ban sparked a supply crunch, leading to a search for sand from other sources.

Cambodia and Vietnam are also source countries, but in 2009, Cambodia banned the export of sand from rivers, although exports from areas where sand was replenished regularly was still allowed. Vietnam followed suit in the same year.

In 2010, anti-corruption non-governmental organisation Global Witness alleged in a report that the Cambodian government was engaging in corrupt practices and ignoring environmental safeguards against sand dredging, and that Singapore was buying sand unsustainably dredged from the rivers in the Koh Kong Province.

Singapore rejected the allegations, stressing that it requires sand vendors to act responsibly and observe source country regulations.

Strict rules in place for import of sand: Government
Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Jan 17;

Singapore has denied accusations that it illegally imported sand from Cambodia, saying "strict controls" are in place to ensure contractors source sand legally and in line with local environmental rules.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) said the Government does not condone the smuggling of sand or the use of forged export permits - accusations levelled at it by Cambodian environmentalists.

"Thus far, Singapore has not encountered instances of smuggled sand, or contractors bringing sand into Singapore carrying fake export permits," a spokesman for MND said in response to media queries.

In fact, Singapore has ceased importing sand from its neighbour since last November, in compliance with a ban on all sand exports by the Cambodian government, he added.

This superseded a May 2009 partial ban on certain types of sand.

The MND statement comes amid a growing clamour among Cambodian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) accusing Singapore of excessive sand dredging that they say has threatened mangrove swamps, fish stocks and livelihoods.

A discrepancy over just how much sand Singapore has imported also gave rise to charges that the trade enriched local politicians in Cambodia.

Between 2007 and 2015, Singapore recorded 70 million more tonnes of sand from Cambodia than it reported sending over, according to a United Nations database. The MND said it was unable to verify this.

Cambodian NGO Mother Nature has since engaged Singapore lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam to look into whether Singapore has broken any laws "in relation to the social and ecological destruction the mining has caused, or... the government (is) importing Cambodian sand which is tainted by issues of corruption, smuggling, tax evasion etc", its founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson told The Cambodia Daily on Jan 5.

Mr Thuraisingam told The Straits Times he was approached by the NGO earlier this year, but said it was too early to give more details.

In its statement, the MND spokesman stressed that the import of sand from Cambodia is done on a commercial basis, and the Government does not condone any trade or extraction of sand that breaches the source countries' laws.

Contractors must "source sand from legally permissible areas, comply with all the environmental protection laws of the source country, and have the proper sand export documentation and permits from the relevant authorities in the source countries".

He added: "The authorities will investigate any such instances and take enforcement action, if evidence is provided."

When contacted, Singapore Contractors Association Limited president Kenneth Loo said: "Whenever we import it, we do it the correct way - not cowboy style."

Indonesia and Malaysia have previously also banned exports of sand to Singapore, which uses sand for both reclamation and construction.

Previous reports cited Myanmar and the Philippines among Singapore's current suppliers.

Singapore is the world's largest importer of sand, according to the UN Environment Programme.

By 2030, the Government expects to reclaim another 5,200ha - the size of nine Ang Mo Kio towns.

Read more!

Malaysia: Hulu Terengganu residents reel from "worst monsoon season in living memory"

BERNAMA New Straits Times 23 Jan 17;

KUALA BERANG: For local residents here who have been hit by three major floods in just one month, this is the worst monsoon season ever experienced in Hulu Terengganu.

Yunoh Arif, 67, from Kampung Tok Lawit, said previously, there were only two waves of floods, but this year, there were three, forcing him to move for the third time on Saturday.

"As far as I can remember, from the time I was a child we have never been hit three times over one month. Twice over one month or two months was normal," he said when met at the Tok Lawit flood relief centre here yesterday.

"It is tiring having to move and shift heavy items to higher ground. And when the floods have receded, there is the massive clean-up.

Fortunately I have my grandchildren to help me," he said. Semek Mohamad, 51 from Kampung Nibong, said the floods which hit this time was exceptional.

"In 1986, it was bad... it was a big flood, but it hit us only once that year.

"But this year, we have to leave our homes three times... this is really a test on us," she said. Another victim, Latifah Mohd Arif, 33, from Kampung Kuala Ping, said she was relieved when the weather was hot and sunny after the second floods, but sadly, it rained heavily again and once again, her house was inundated.

"This is such a challenging time for me, as it is difficult to keep shifting with a three-month-old baby to take care of," said Latifah, who had to leave her house at 5am on Saturday. - BERNAMA

National flood update: Evacuee numbers drop in Kelantan, T'ganu, rise in Sabah
BERNAMA New Straits Times 22 Jan 17;

KOTA BHARU: The number of flood victims in Kelantan dropped to 10,126 people from 2,846 families as of 5pm today, from 11,654 people from 3,300 families at 1pm.

Based on the Social Welfare Department's 'Infobanjir' application, all evacuees are currently housed at 57 relief centres in seven districts in the state.

A total of 5,113 people from 1,363 families are taking shelter at 23 relief centres in Kota Bharu, and 2,520 from 689 families are at 10 relief centres in Pasir Puteh.

In Pasir Mas, 19 relief centres were opened to house 1,785 victims from 600 families, while Bachok recorded 522 victims from 141 families at one relief centre.

Machang has 122 victims from 35 families in one centre, while Tanah Merah’s centre houses 18 victims from six families. Kuala Krai has 46 people from 12 families at two relief centres.

Three relief centres in Tumpat, which this afternoon housed 1,171 victims from 340 families were closed after all evacuees were allowed to return home.

According to Kelantan's 'ebanjir' portal, the water level at Sungai Golok in Rantau Panjang rose to 10.16 metres at 5pm, compared to 10.06 metres at noon. The danger level for the river is at 9.0 metres.


In Terengganu, the flood situation continues to improve, with the number of evacuees declining to 1,470 as at 6pm from 2,917 at noon.

Twenty-eight relief centres are housing 427 families in five districts in the state.

In Besut, 387 evacuees from 92 families are still at five relief centres as at 6pm, down from 735 people (170 families) at noon.

In Setiu, 179 flood victims from 41 families are still taking shelter at four relief centres, down from 836 (from 217 families) at noon.

The flood situation in Hulu Terengganu improved a little, with 666 victims (from 240 families) at relief centres in the evening, compared to 1,203 people (from 431 families) at noon.

In Dungun, 34 people (from 10 families) are still taking shelter at four relief centres.

However, in Kemaman, there was a slight increase to 204 evacuees (from 44 families) at relief centres.

The Drainage and Irrigation Department, through its website, reports that only one river, Sungai Dungun at Kuala Jengai, is above the danger level, with a reading of 23.07 metres, but still a drop from 23.34 metres recorded at noon today (the danger level is 21 metres).

Three rivers in three districts which recorded readings above their danger levels at noon are now just above the warning levels.

The three rivers are Sungai Telemong at Kuala Ping in Hulu Terengganu, Sungai Nerus at Kampung Langkap in Setiu and Sungai Tebak di Kemaman.


In Sabah, the number of flood victims at five relief centres - including two opened today - in three districts, rose to 514 people from 143 families as at 4pm.

Sabah State Disaster Management Committee (JPBN) secretariat chief, Col Mulliadi Al-Hamdi Ladin, said 346 victims from 82 families in the district of Kota Marudu are still at SK Taritipan, while 35 people are at the Damai Agricultural Training Centre's hall, which was reopened today after closing on Jan 20.

Thirty-nine flood victims from 11 families in Paitan, a sub-district of Beluran, are still housed at the Kampung Binsulung hall.

In the district of Pitas, 35 victims from seven families are still at SK Salimpodon, while another 59 from 18 families are at SK Rukom. - BERNAMA

Read more!

Malaysia: Struggles of our sea turtles

INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL New Straits Times 22 Jan 17;

Adult and juvenile turtles get a second chance at life at the Gaya Island Resort’s Marine Conservation Centre, writes Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal

BLINK. Blink. After a deep, peaceful slumber, he must have felt like he’d just woken up to a circus. Surrounding his makeshift home in the bright blue plastic tray are inquisitive humans, jostling to peer at him up close, like some exhibit, chatter rising to a crescendo as they mull over his next course of action. He must have been glad to be ensconced in the matching blue blanket as he pondered his escape.

The juvenile Hawksbill turtle, the star attraction on this balmy morning, is due to be released into the sea after having spent several days at the Gaya Island Resort’s Marine Conservation Centre under observation. He’d found himself trapped in a fisherman’s bubu (fish trap) and subsequently brought here by the fishermen for further action. Not having done so would have meant a hefty fine or punishment for them as the Hawksbill, considered by many to be the most beautiful of all sea turtle species for their colourful shells, is a critically endangered species.

According to SEE Turtles, a body set up in 2008 to protect sea turtles through eco-tourism, their population has declined more than 80 per cent in the last century, due to the trade in their exquisite carapace (shell), also known as “tortoiseshell”.

“Oh, he’s just groggy from the medication we injected into his body. It’s for his antibodies,” someone whispers into my ear. Turning around to trace the source of the information, I clap eyes on an attractive lady, clad in an all-black ensemble, the words Wildlife Rescue emblazoned across the back of her dark T-shirt. “He’s been here just under three days. We took some blood samples for tests. Now he’s good to return to the waters.”

Pulling on a pair of gloves (‘...because reptiles have harmful salmonella on their skin...’), she crouches down and gingerly coaxes the gentle reptile out of his tray. And like a prisoner receiving his long-awaited pardon for a crime he didn’t commit, the Hawksbill regally clambers out of his sterile home and onto the warmth of the powdery soft sand. Waiting across from him in the warm shallow grey-green water, lying on his front, a water-proof camera clasped in position, is the Resort’s resident marine biologist Scott Mayback, the man responsible for conceptualising and implementing the centre’s various marine conservation programmes.

Zig-zagging his way across the sand, his compass the sea, the Hawksbill finally gets his taste of home as the waves caress his beautiful hard body, and drift him further away from the shore, where an audience has gathered to pay their silent farewells. “Stay safe, little one,” I mutter to myself, as I feel a tear threatening to escape my right eye.


Gaya Island is set within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a group of five islands located off Kota Kinabalu, each with fringing coral reefs. The Marine Centre is nestled on the secluded Tavajun Bay, which is accessible either by a five-minute boat ride from Gaya Island Resort’s jetty or through a 45-minute trek.

The centre was launched in 2013 and has since then, rescued, treated and cared for multiple endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and one critically endangered Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). Prior to today’s turtle release, four other turtles had been released into the waters — Bobby, Ninja, Carmen and Nick Jr, all of which have undergone rehabilitation and research.

There are four coral reef display tanks at the centre, which offer visitors the chance to learn more about reef life. These tanks are also used to produce coral fragments, which would subsequently be returned to the sea. Outside the turtle rescue centre is a 14,000-litre recovery tank for housing sick or injured sea turtles so they can have a better shot at survival. This recovery tank also houses a coral nursery that establishes an artificial environment to aquaculture coral fragments that will be returned to the sea to help rejuvenate and enhance the natural reefs.

The centre is committed to leading the community in marine conservation and is a strong advocate of three conservation pillars — Turtle Rescue, Coral Reef Restoration and Conservation through Education.


With his clean shaven head and serious demeanour, Mayback, the New Yorker at the helm of YTL’s marine conservation efforts at Gaya Island Resort can appear daunting at first. He has that “no nonsense” look of a man who has no time for meaningless chats. But pull him aside and whisper the words “marine”, or “corals”, or “turtles” and watch his sleepy eyes light up.

The 39-year-old, who grew up in Long Island, US, a place of beautiful beaches and estuaries which he delighted in as a child, has been in the country for the last eight years, and with YTL ever since the Resort opened. A graduate in marine biology from the University of Oregon, his love affair with marine life began after a backpacking trip in Central America. “After graduation, I backpacked to Central America where I finished in Honduras. I got my dive licence there. I fell in love with the reefs and decided that I wanted to be somewhere where I could do this all the time,” shares Mayback, making himself comfortable on the wooden seat by the jetty for our chat. Around us is the mesmerising vista of the beautiful aquamarine waters of Gaya Island.

So it was to the Land Below the Wind, Sabah, that he headed, finding employment with a local company where he helped set up a marine conservation centre and aquarium. He picked up invaluable hands-on experience in coral reef restoration as well as turtle rehabilitation. But three years later, due to a lack of funding, Mayback left for greener pastures and into the arms of his present employer, YTL.

The Marine Centre, shares Mayback, plays its part in the protection of sea turtles by rescuing and rehabilitating injured or sick sea turtles, and is the first of its kind in the country. This project was initiated with research results showing six out of seven species of sea turtles are endangered or critically endangered worldwide.

Why? Due to fishing, over-development, pollution, or turtles getting stranded, caught unintentionally by fishermen or becoming sick or injured.

“Malaysia has been doing turtle conservation for 50 years but the focus has mostly been on hatchlings — eggs, nesting etc. But not much has been done for adult turtles or injured juveniles,” says Mayback, before adding: “Maybe there have been parties who’ve done stuff here and there but there’s yet to be a dedicated centre.”

The centre first tasted sweet success when it managed to save Bobby, the sea turtle found floating, unable to dive down or even eat due to an intestinal blockage caused by an infection. With much care, Bobby, of the green turtle species, was rehabilitated within five months and released into the sea in conjunction with the centre’s launch.

“Then we had Ninja, another green turtle, which was chronically debilitated. He was malnourished and covered in barnacles. We nursed him back to health and returned him to the sea once we had confirmed that he was well enough to leave. He was with us for more than three months. Since then, we’ve done further turtle rescues and also looked after turtle hatchlings received from Sabah Parks,” shares Mayback, eyes shining.

Through the course of his work here, Mayback confides that he has seen everything, from turtles with fractured skulls as a result of being hit by a boat, to those with fractured shells, and others that are chronically debilitated, which means that they’re so sick that they can’t even dive down into the water. “They end up floating on the surface wasting away like a starving person. You can see their bones,” says Mayback, eyes clouding at the memory.


Virtually a one-man show here at the Marine Centre, challenges are a given. But it’s not so much the workload that Mayback offers as his biggest challenge when posed the question — it’s the emotions that engulf him when an animal is lost or when he sees a turtle being washed up to shore in a perilous condition. “It’s important to be able to separate your emotions from it because you need to learn as much as you can. It’s very challenging, especially if you’ve been keeping it (the animal) for a while and you become attached to it like a pet. It’s emotionally taxing to lose an animal in your care. But you must do your best to separate that and learn from every casualty.”

Suffice to say, sad casualties are aplenty. “There was one time when a turtle was brought here and it was suffering from a neurological disorder. It just kept swimming upside down. We suspected that it had gotten too close to fishermen using bombs to fish,” shares Mayback.

Brows furrowing, he adds: “Last year, three turtles in a row were brought in to us. But their cases were just too serious. We weren’t able to do anything and they died eventually. Each time this kind of thing happens, we learn. and we continue to learn.”

Preparing to return to the centre to complete his day’s job, I ask Mayback for a “take-home” message. Without hesitation, he replies: “Every single piece of plastic you drop, whether you live in the city or high up in the mountains, will eventually find its way into the ocean. And what do you think will happen?

“Just do this simple thing. If you have plastic, dispose of them properly.”

His voice low, he concludes: “Go out there and experience nature and wildlife — if you can. Then you’ll understand why it’s so important to protect them. You can’t protect something you don’t really care for.”

Read more!