Best of our wild blogs: 7 Feb 17

Open for registration – Love MacRitchie Walk 19 Feb 2017
Love our MacRitchie Forest

EarthFest happens this Sunday, 12th Feb!
Green Drinks Singapore

Contest to find Singapore Nature Photographer of the Year 2017
wild shores of singapore

9th Singapore Raptor Watch Report
Singapore Bird Group

21 Year-Round Coastal Cleanups in 2016 – here’s to more tender loving care for our coasts!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

NSS Kids’ Fun with Caterpillars & Butterflies at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park
Fun with Nature

NSS Kids’ Fun with Intertidal Marine Life at Sentosa
Fun with Nature

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Littering fines hit seven-year high last year

Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Feb 17;

Last year, more than 31,000 fines and 1,700 corrective work orders were issued to litterbugs.

The number of littering fines meted out has hit a seven-year high, proof that old habits die hard.

For decades, the different agencies have worked hard to clean out litterbugs.

While there were some winners - today's pristine Singapore River being the biggest success story - it appears the problem has never really left us and has only become worse.

The number of fines issued each year has been on an upward trajectory since 2012, when 8,195 were issued.

Last year, more than 31,000 fines and 1,700 corrective work orders (CWOs) were issued to litterbugs.

The number of CWOs issued was also higher than in the previous five years.

As soon as the numbers made the news, the blame game started with some netizens singling out foreigners.

When they realised that more than six in 10 litterbugs caught were Singapore residents, they directed their unhappiness at new citizens and permanent residents.

There have been calls for the authorities to be tougher on litterbugs.

This includes reverting to the "show-and-shame" practice of the 1990s, where offenders were made to clean public areas, with their pictures splashed across newspapers the day after.

Besides an enforcement blitz, Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D'Silva suggested displaying a scorecard for each estate with the number of litterbugs caught.

That way, residents have a stake in keeping their estates clean.

The spike in fines is indicative of tougher enforcement action.

There have also been campaigns to pique the sense of social consciousness, while penalties for littering were raised in April 2014.

Sticks and carrots have been used. But it may be time for a different approach.

Sharing her experience in Japan, the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Environment, Ms Lee Bee Wah, said she witnessed how passers-by surrounded a man who had littered and told him off.

She said: "That is the mindset we need, that cleanliness is everyone's responsibility."

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Water prices set to increase this year due to higher production costs: Masagos

Lee Li Ying, Channel NewsAsia 7 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Water prices are set to increase this year, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli announced on Tuesday (Feb 7).

The minister declined to specify how much the increase would be but said more details would be revealed during Budget 2017, which is set to be delivered on Feb 20.

Mr Masagos said the projected increase was due to higher costs in producing water, taking into consideration factors such as urbanisation and the need to dig deeper to lay pipes, as well as the need to renew old plants and transmission pipes.

"Together with the need to put up with weather that's less reliable than before as well as to ensure that we are operationally sound, we have to ensure that this is sustainable for Singapore," added Mr Masagos.

The minister also said that the price of water has remained constant for the past 17 years, and is currently underpriced. Including the water conservation tax, water in Singapore currently costs S$1.52 per cubic metre.

"In countries around the world where water is not priced properly, the water ministry is not able to recoup the costs enough to build new assets to replace old assets and sometimes assets are left in disrepair. Even if they do have water, water cannot get to where it's needed," Mr Masagos said.


Mr Masagos also announced that national water agency PUB has put up a request for proposals for the development of Singapore's fifth desalination plant.

Four applicants shortlisted from an earlier pre-qualification exercise - Keppel Infrastructure Holdings, Sembcorp Utilities, Tuas Power and YTL Power International - have been invited to submit their proposals, PUB said in a press release.

According to PUB, the new plant is projected to enhance Singapore's water resilience by adding another 137,000 cubic metres of desalinated water a day to the country's water supply.

The desalination plant will be co-located within the successful applicant's existing facility, such as a power plant or a steam generation plant on Jurong Island, so that potential synergies in resources such as seawater intake or energy can be derived, the agency added.

PUB director of engineering development and procurement Young Joo Chye said that as a source of water that is independent of rainfall, desalinated water "bolsters the reliability of our water supply against prolonged periods of dry spells and droughts".

There are currently two desalination plants in Singapore which provide enough water to meet up to 25 per cent of Singapore's current demand. With the completion of a third plant in Tuas by this year and a fourth in Marina East by 2020, desalinated seawater is expected to meet up to 30 per cent of Singapore's water needs by 2060.

- CNA/mz

Water prices to go up, details to come in Budget: Masagos
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 7 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Water prices will be raised, with details to be announced during this year's Budget, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday (Feb 7).

Speaking during a visit to Tuas Desalination Plant 3, which is 60 per cent completed, the minister cited the anticipated higher costs of producing water and the need to price water right in view of the less reliable weather as reasons behind the first price adjustment in 17 years.

Noting that water is currently underpriced, Mr Masagos said: "Going forward we are seeing higher costs in producing water. This is not just because of the plant. We also have to take in consideration urbanisation and therefore our pipes have to be dug even deeper."

He added: "At the same time we are also looking at renewing old plants, old transmission pipes and this will definitely add costs to our operations.”

Mr Masagos also noted that Singapore needs to be ready for weather that is “less reliable than before”. To ensure that the country is “operationally sound” in producing water, “we have to price water right”, he added.

Currently, water tariffs are tiered, depending on whether it is for domestic, non-domestic or shipping use. For domestic users, there are two levels of tariffs (S$1.17 per cubic metre or S$1.40 per cubic metre), depending on consumption volume.

Water conservation tax is 30 per cent of the tariff, before GST.

Mr Masagos did not give an indication of how much prices would go up by. He said there was a need to balance the sustainability of supply and reflect the scarcity of water.

Singapore's four national taps are water from Malaysia, the local reservoirs, desalination and NEWAter.

There is no need for water rationing at the moment, Mr Masagos said.

In the past year, the Linggiu reservoir that helps Singapore to draw its entitlement of water from the Johor River has hit record lows and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan recently warned of a "significant risk" of Linggiu falling to zero per cent this year, if it turns out to be a dry year. Singapore gets about half of its water from Malaysia.

Price of water to increase for the first time in 17 years
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 7 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Water prices will go up after holding steady for 17 years, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said on Tuesday (Feb 7), less than a month after he said the Government would adjust water charges when necessary.

Details such as the extent of the increase and when the new charges will take effect will be announced on Budget Day on Feb 20, he said during a visit to the Tuas Desalination Plant 3, which is set to be completed in November. The increase will apply to both households and non-domestic users.

Mr Masagos cited the anticipated higher costs of producing water and the need to price water right in view of the less reliable weather as reasons behind the price adjustment.

“Going forward, we have to ensure that assets we’ve put in (place) to prevent a critical situation of water disruption from Johor are also priced into water supply,” he said. The Linggiu Reservoir, which allows Singapore to draw water more reliably from the Johor River, is at 32 per cent. Singapore gets about half of its water from Malaysia, but Johor has experienced water supply issues in recent years.

Should dry weather return after the monsoon season, as it did in the last two years, there is a real risk that Linggiu could fail over the next two years, Mr Masagos posted on Facebook on Tuesday after the Tuas visit. “We need to plan for such contingencies, and make timely investments so that we will not be caught off-guard.”

Also adding costs to water operations are the fact that pipes have to be dug deeper due to urbanisation, and the renewal of old plants and pipes.

The use of desalination, the costliest and most energy-intensive of Singapore’s four “national taps”, is also set to increase to meet 30 per cent of the country’s water demand by 2026, from 25 per cent now. The other national taps are NEWater (treated used water) and water from local catchment areas.

Currently, water tariffs are tiered, depending on whether the water is for domestic, non-domestic or shipping use. For domestic users, there are two levels of tariffs (S$1.17 per cubic metre or S$1.40 per cubic metre), depending on consumption volume. Water conservation tax is set at 30 or 45 per cent of the tariff.

Mr Masagos said that water in Singapore is currently underpriced and “every time we have to pump from our NEWater and desalinated water (plants), it adds to the cost pressures operationally.”

Water policy expert Eduardo Araral at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said the increase in water prices is “long overdue”. It is necessary to reduce consumption of both water and energy , and raising water tariffs is “a form of buying insurance, given the reality of climate change and the recurring droughts we now experience”.

While there should be measures to cushion the impact on poorer households, Dr Araral said middle and higher income households will not feel the pinch. According to data on Singapore Power’s website, the average water consumption of a five-room HDB household was 17.7 cubic metres in December last year — a bill of about S$27 before Goods and Services Tax. If prices rise by 25 per cent to compensate for inflation since the last revision, it is roughly the cost of a meal in the hawker centre, noted Dr Araral.

Dr Cecilia Tortajada of the LKYSPP said climate change and variability are putting enormous pressure on natural resource availability around the world, including water in Singapore.
“Populations have to be more aware that their decisions have an impact on the environment and pricing mechanisms are a very effective way to make people be more mindful of their use of resources,” she said. “It is now time for the population to (do) its part in water conservation.”

In 2013, Dr Tortajada and Professor Asit Biswas had said water prices in Singapore should be raised by at least 30 per cent.

The average water consumption per person per day here is about 151 litres, and the PUB’s target is to reduce it to 147 litres per day by 2020, and 140 litres per day by 2030.
Singapore consumes about 430 million gallons of water per day, with homes consuming 45 per cent and the non-domestic sector taking up the rest. By 2060, total water demand could almost double, with the non-domestic sector accounting for about 70 per cent. By then, NEWater and desalination will meet up to 85 per cent of Singapore’s future water demand, according to the PUB.

Singapore launched its fifth NEWater plant last month and has two more desalination plants to be completed by 2020. On Tuesday, the PUB requested for proposals from four pre-qualified applicants to build the fifth desalination plant, which will be on Jurong Island.

Water price hike to boost Singapore's water security: Masagos
The New Paper 8 Feb 17;

Water is set to cost more here, as Singapore seeks to ensure long-term water security in face of uncertain weather conditions.

An increase in water prices will be announced at the upcoming Budget, as well as further moves towards desalination, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

The price increase will help ensure the reliability of the country's water infrastructure, as well as support reliable but more expensive sources of water like desalination.

Mr Masagos said at a tour of the partially completed Tuas Desalination Plant 3 yesterday that the price of water has not been revised for many years and that it is underpriced.

He highlighted the importance of alternative water sources like desalination in the face of uncertain weather conditions in the future, noting that Johor's Linggiu Reservoir may dry up completely if dry weather continues for the next two years.

Desalinated water is one of Singapore's Four National Taps and is the most expensive because of the energy required to extract salt from seawater at high pressure. The other taps are Newater, water from local catchment areas and imported water. - THE STRAITS TIMES

Price of water will go up to ensure sustainable supply
Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Feb 17;

For the first time in 17 years, Singapore residents will have to pay more for water, as the nation seeks to ensure long-term water security.

Details of the increase in water prices for both domestic and non-domestic users will be in the upcoming Budget to be announced on Feb 20, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

He said on a visit to Singapore's partially completed third desalination plant in Tuas yesterday that water has to be priced correctly to ensure a sustainable supply and reflect the scarcity of the resource.

The tariffs for domestic potable water, calculated monthly, stand at $1.17 per cubic m for the first 40 cubic m, and $1.40 per cubic m thereafter, excluding taxes.

The cost of producing and supplying water has increased, because of reliable but more expensive methods such as desalination and the need to renew ageing infrastructure like old production plants and pipes.

"In many countries where it is not priced properly, the water ministry is not able to recoup cost enough to build new assets to replace old assets, and sometimes, assets are just left in disrepair to the extent that even though they may have water, the water cannot get to where it is needed," said Mr Masagos.

"Water is a very critical asset that we have to take care of."

Experts have long called for the relatively inexpensive water prices to be raised in Singapore, as this would encourage people to reduce consumption.

Mr Masagos also noted the importance of diversifying water production methods. "If there is a more prolonged dry season affecting the region, Linggiu will actually run out in about two years. And therefore, we always must be ready to ensure that we have enough assets... to supply water to Singapore."

The Linggiu Reservoir in Johor supplies Singapore with up to 250 million gallons of water a day under an agreement with Johor.

Mr Masagos said that even in a worst-case scenario, Singapore should not need to resort to water rationing, due to its diversified sources.

Desalinated water is the most expensive of Singapore's four National Taps - with the other three being imported water, water from local reservoirs and Newater - given the energy needed to extract salt from seawater at high pressure.

Nonetheless, said Mr Young Joo Chye, director of engineering development and procurement at national water agency PUB, it remains a key pillar of Singapore's water supply strategy. "As a source of water that is independent of rainfall, it bolsters the reliability of our water supply against prolonged periods of dry spells and droughts."

Two desalination plants are now in operation here, meeting up to 25 per cent of Singapore's water demand of 430 million gallons per day.

Desalination will meet up to 30 per cent of demand by 2030, when at least five plants are expected to be operational.

Water price hike: Water users worried but see need to curb wastage
Carolyn Khew and Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Feb 17;

Consumers and businesses have voiced concerns about water rates being hiked, even if some acknowledge that there is a need to do so to curb wastage of the scarce resource.

Restaurant Association of Singapore president adviser Andrew Tjioe said he hopes the Government will factor in the present economic climate when deciding on the price increase.

"We have other things to take care of like operation costs, which are very high," he said.

Yesterday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said the price increase is meant to ensure the reliability of Singapore's water infrastructure, and to reflect the scarcity of water.

This is the first time in 17 years the price is being increased.

The details will be announced during Budget 2017 on Feb 20.

Car-grooming firm Groomwerkz's managing director Tan Thiam Yong said higher prices for water usage could prompt users to be better at conserving the resource.

"For us, we have already done all that we can to save water but for those who are not at their optimum, it might prompt them to do so," said Mr Tan.

His company is now looking to recycle 90 per cent of the water used for car-grooming services, including car washing, by the end of the year.

Housewife Ng Kah Kiow, 54, who lives in Toa Payoh, said: "Naturally, we hope prices will not increase, but we understand that costs are going up and water is precious."

Professor Asit Biswas, visiting professor at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the domestic water price should be raised by at least 50 per cent, with subsidies for low-income and large families.

The price of water should be doubled for industrial users, so that companies will increase efforts to reduce water use, he added.

He said there should also be yearly increments according to the inflation rate, to encourage people to reduce consumption.

The tariffs for domestic potable water, which are calculated monthly, stand at $1.17 per cubic m for the first 40 cubic m and $1.40 per cubic m thereafter, excluding taxes.

Prof Biswas said Singapore would have a water crisis if the Linggiu Reservoir does dry up.

It is now at about 32 per cent full.

The reservoir allows Singapore to draw its entitlement of 250 million gallons per day from the Johor River.

Kopitiam, which operates about 80 foodcourts and coffee shops, is hoping the price increase will not be significant.

"Any price increase will definitely affect business costs... Let's hope that the price increase won't be too hefty," said a spokesman.

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Singapore’s stormwater management strategies have 'served us well': Masagos

Channel NewsAsia 6 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Despite increased urbanisation and more variable weather, flood-prone areas in Singapore have been reduced from 3,200 hectares in the 1970s to 30.5 hectares today, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday (Feb 6), he noted that Singapore’s stormwater management strategies have served it well. He was responding to questions from Members of Parliament on the recent flash floods across the island, and what his ministry would do to reduce such incidents.

He said flood management has been made more challenging due to “upward trends in rainfall intensity and frequency of heavy rain events”, coupled with “growing urbanisation which increases stormwater runoff”.

Mr Masagos outlined the “source-pathway-receptor” approach taken by national water agency PUB to reduce flood risk. It addresses flood protection not just through drains and canals (the pathway), but also in areas generating stormwater runoff (the source) and areas where floods may occur (the receptor).

In terms of drains, Mr Masagos said that since 2011, PUB has raised drainage design standards for new developments and redevelopments. This would increase their drainage systems’ capacity up to 50 per cent.

Drainage improvement work at 192 locations has also been completed, he said, and there are ongoing projects at 90 other locations.

He added that PUB also requires developers to implement “source” solutions to better manage stormwater discharge from developments, while “receptor” solutions like higher platform levels, crest protection and flood barriers are also required, especially for critical installations.

Mr Masagos said PUB works closely with the National Environment Agency’s Department of Public Cleanliness to regularly remove debris, litter and leaves from drains. It also encourages the public to keep the environment litter-free and give feedback on drain conditions.

PUB also works with major development agencies to get their contractors to conduct checks on the public drains near their construction sites to ensure that the drains are free of debris, he added.

But even as PUB continues with efforts to reduce flood risks, Mr Masagos said it is not possible to eliminate floods altogether. “Our focus is also to help members of the public better manage floods when they occur,” he said, adding that PUB has put in place monitoring and alert systems to keep the public updated. PUB also works closely with the Land Transport Authority and police to monitor road conditions and provide real-time updates to the public.

Referring to recent flash floods at Upper Thomson Road, Mr Masagos said that unauthorised work by a contractor had affected the public drainage system. He explained that the floods were caused by a “localised constriction” at temporary diversion drains built by the contractor.

He said the contractor did not inform PUB before the commencement of work, and the public drainage system across Upper Thomson Road was also found to have been altered by the contractor without PUB’s approval.

“PUB takes a serious view of such unauthorised works and will not hesitate to take action against errant parties under the Sewerage and Drainage Act,” said Mr Masagos. “Such penalties and reputational damage, as well as being liable for civil penalties if they cause third-party damage, have been sufficient and effective in the past, and PUB will continue to review the amounts from time to time.”

- CNA/lc

Contractor set to be charged over works that caused Upper Thomson floods
ALFRED CHUA Today Online 7 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — The PUB is taking steps to press charges against Sato Kogyo, the contractor that had carried out unauthorised works that affected the public drainage system, contributing to flash floods in the Upper Thomson Road area last Christmas Eve.

Revealing this in Parliament yesterday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who had been asked by Jurong GRC Member of Parliament Ang Wei Neng whether the agency has taken any action against the contractors, said charges will be put forward when ready.

Parts of Upper Thomson Road were hit by flash floods last Christmas Eve after a heavy downpour, with some businesses reportedly suffering damage worth thousands of dollars.

An investigation after the incident at the site of the Upper Thomson Road MRT station had revealed that Sato Kogyo had carried out works that affected the public drainage system — namely an “undersized” temporary diversion drain — and the works were done without seeking approval.

Yesterday, Mr Masagos told the House that the flash flood was caused by “a localised constriction at the temporary diversion drain”.

Under the Sewerage and Drainage Act, Sato Kogyo could be fined up to S$50,000 if found guilty of conducting unauthorised works affecting the public drainage system. The company could also be fined up to S$20,000 if found guilty of unauthorised alteration or interference to public drainage systems.

Mr Masagos also said in Parliament that the Republic’s storm-water management strategies have been working.

“Despite increased urbanisation and more variable weather, flood prone areas have been reduced from 3,200ha in the 1970s to 30.5ha today,” he said, addressing questions raised by Mr Ang as well as Nominated MP Assoc Prof Randolph Tan.

But while efforts will continue to be made to reduce flood-prone areas, Mr Masagos said these measures will take time to implement, and may not be able to cope with all “extremities” in rainfall.

Calling for a concerted effort to tackle flooding, he said: “I urge all parties to play a part in ensuring that our drains are free-flowing, and to appreciate the importance of source and receptor requirements in their developments.” ALFRED CHUA

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Malaysia: Damage is irreversible, experts say on invasion of foreign predatory fish

NST New Straits Times 7 Feb 17;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The damage is done. It is irreversible when foreign predatory fish populate most major rivers in the country.

The fear is that indigenous fish species, falling prey to these predators, may become extinct within five to 10 years. Experts are finding a way to remove the predators from the wild before they over-populate.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) ichthyologist Dr Amirrudin Ahmad said importing predatory species was harmless, as they were only fry at first.

“Aquarium fish traders may or may not be aware of the danger these predatory species pose. Hobbyists, too, may not have been informed of the fishes’ adult size.

“The aquaculture sector was looking for an alternative specimen and introduced the African catfish, which can grow up to an enormous size.”

Amirrudin is one of the people in charge of Malaysia’s native fish species and is responsible for the discovery of the world’s smallest fish, Paedocypris progenetica, in 2006.

He said based on information from anglers, the predatory species could have been in the rivers for a few years.

He said anglers shared the blame by releasing such fishes, like the peacock bass, into abandoned mining pools, although they might not be aware that it could wipe out local fish species.

Anglers have been reported catching varieties of the highly aggressive and predatory peacock bass, Chao Phraya high fin giant catfish, pirarucu, pacu, red tail catfish and alligator gar.

State Fisheries Department director Zawawi Ali said hobbyists generally dumped predatory fishes into rivers .

He said hobbyists would dispose of their collection into rivers when the fish could no longer fit into their tanks or when they stopped their hobby.

“Feeding big fishes is costly. This may also be the reason they have to dispose of their collection.”

Zawawi said a problem would arise when hobbyists imported predatory fish species without verifying with the department whether the species was banned.

He urged those who intended to dispose of their collection to inform the department so it could help them to do so.

He appealed to importers to refer to the department, which had a list of fishes that were banned.

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Malaysia: Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to be released in Selangor to curb dengue

The Star 6 Feb 17;

PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry will release mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia micro-organism in an identified area in Selangor to see its impact on reducing dengue cases in the country, said minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

He said the pilot project was to understand the "behaviour" of the disease-transmitting mosquito species, and would be continued in other areas in the coming weeks.

The method was introduced in January last year by the Institute for Medical Research in collaboration with Lancaster University, United Kingdom, he said.

"Based on the study, we will decide whether it's useful to do it in other areas in the country," Dr Subramaniam told a press conference at his ministry here Monday.

Last year, Bernama reported quoting Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah as saying that injecting the Wolbachia micro-organism into the Aedes Aegypti mosquito eggs was seen as a method to prevent the spread of the dengue virus among humans.

He said the eggs did not carry the dengue virus and thus prevented the spread of the disease.

"The Wolbachia will block the dengue virus from replicating within the mosquito," Dr Noor Hisham was quoted as saying.

Wolbachia is a micro-organism that lives naturally in the reproductive organs of insects and exists in about 60% of insects except the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. - Bernama

Plans to release anti-dengue mozzies in Selangor
The Star 7 Feb 17;

PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry is planning to release anti-dengue mosquitoes into the wild, beginning with a selected area in Selangor.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the mosquitoes will be “infected” with the Wolbachia bacteria and then released to see if it will reduce the number of dengue cases in the area.

“This is a localised study by the Institute of Medical Research in collaboration with a university in Britain. We will be releasing these Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes into a localised community which we have identified in Selangor.

“We will then see the impact of this in reducing dengue cases in that area. Based on that study, we will make a decision on whether we will use it (elsewhere),” said Dr Subramaniam at a press conference at his ministry yesterday.

Wolbachia is a natural bacterium found in about 60% of different species of insects, including mosquitoes.

He said this pilot project will be executed “in the coming weeks”.

A mosquito that is infected with Wolbachia will not have the ability to pass on diseases to humans.

Similar efforts involving Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in other parts of the world have shown successes in reducing the spread of Zika and chikungunya viruses.

A few years ago in Malaysia, there were also efforts to release “genetically sterile” male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to reduce the mosquito population.

On another matter, Dr Subramaniam said the Health Ministry will step up publicity and enforcement efforts in light of the new non-smoking zones which recently came into force.

“We need to increase enforcement and publicity efforts. The ministry will be stepping up its publicity measures on the new non-smoking areas, which we have gazetted recently, so that it can be observed by the public.

“As for enforcement, it is a collective effort not just by the ministry, but by other local authorities as well. This needs to be increased too,” he said.

Last week, checks by The Star revealed that many people continue to smoke in parks, with many claiming to be unaware of the new regulations.

Earlier, Dr Subramaniam clarified that the increase for medical charges at Government clinics and hospitals only apply to first class and second class inpatients.

“We made a rationalisation on the charges for the first and second class inpatients, as the fees have not been changed for a long time. This is due to rising costs which is happening globally in medical care.

“However, third class inpatients will still be paying the same charges. Of course, the Government subsidy has increased, but we recognise that the poor and the low-income group rely heavily on our ministry’s services, so we will continue to make it affordable for them”.

Meanwhile, the Perak Health Depart­ment is predicting a drastic spike in dengue cases in the state this year.

State Health Committee chairman Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon warned that based on a cyclical trend noted by the department, there would be a hike in cases every few years.

“The weather is unpredictable, so it is not easy. Aedes mosquito eggs are also resilient and they can survive between four and six months without water.

“A drop of water at any time can lead to the eggs being hatched,” he said.

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Indonesia: Minister seeks solutions to combat pollution from marine plastic wastes

Antara 6 Feb 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The office of the coordinating minister for maritime affairs is seeking solutions to tackle pollution arising from marine plastic garbage, according to an official of the maritime coordinating ministry.

"We are drawing up an action plan on handling plastic trash and are in the process of discussing it with the World Bank for a budget intervention," Deputy I for Maritime Sovereignty of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Ministry Arif Havas Oegroseno stated in Jakarta on Monday.

Oegroseno said the problem of plastic garbage has a direct impact on the sustainability of the fisheries sector as well as on the marine health and environment.

Oegroseno noted that starting this year, efforts have been made to tackle wastes at sea. As many as 15 cities are participating in a study to seek solutions to the issue of marine plastic wastes.

Among the 15 cities are Jakarta, Makassar, Semarang, Surabaya, Medan, and Batam.

"The study has been conducted since last week and will be continued for three days," he revealed.

The results of the study will be used to decide the steps to be taken by the ministries and government institutions to handle plastic wastes at sea.

The involved ministries and government institutions comprised the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry, Environment and Forestry Ministry, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology, and Education and Culture Ministry.

"The ministry of education and culture will be involved, as the waste problem is closely related to the mindset of the people," Havas remarked.

Havas said that the government will also cooperate with several countries facing the same problem, such as Denmark, the US, Australia, and the Netherlands.

"The US is also facing the same problem, so we can exchange information on ways to solve it," he stated.

Based on a study, Indonesia ranked as the second plastic waste contributor to the worlds maritime waters.(*)

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Indonesia: Adat community urged to protect habitats of birds of paradise

Antara 6 Feb 17;

Biak (ANTARA News) - The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Papua office has urged Papuas Adat community to help protect the habitats of the birds of paradise on Yapen Islands and in Jayapura District to prevent the species from extinction.

"WWF also helps the Adat community develop educational tourism to protect the birds of paradise for the welfare of the local residents," Coordinator of WWF Indonesia Papua Piter Roki Aloisius stated here, Monday.

Protection will help preserve the endemic bird species of Papua, which is currently endangered, he noted.

With their traditional environmental wisdom and knowledge, the Papuan people have greater awareness of the need to protect the beautiful birds.

"The habitats of the birds of paradise must be protected, as it is a precious asset of the local community," Aloisius remarked.

By using the local cultural approach, WWF has been developing sustainable environmental education to encourage Papuan people to protect and preserve the nature and flora and fauna of Papua as well as to love the islands biodiversity, he added.

The birds of paradise, members of the family Paradisaeidae of the order Passeriformes (Perching Birds), need to be protected for both future generations and for the areas tourism.

Locally called the birds of "Cenderawasih," these species are considered to be among the most beautiful in the world.

Besides Papua, these birds are found in tropical forests, including rainforest, swamps, and moss forest in the Torres Strait Islands, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Australia.

The male birds produce beautiful sounds, flash their pretty feathers, and perform elaborate dance rituals to attract their female counterparts.

Hunting these birds for their plumes for the millinery trade was rampant in the late 19th and early 20th century, but they currently enjoy legal protection, and hunting is only permitted at a sustainable level to fulfill the ceremonial needs of the local tribal population.

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WWF calls for fishing ban to save last of vaquita porpoises

Associated Press Yahoo News 7 Feb 17;

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The World Wildlife Fund on Monday called for a complete ban on fishing in the habitat of the vaquita porpoise, noting an international committee of experts has determined that fewer than 30 of the critically endangered mammals probably remain in the upper Gulf of California, the only place they live.

Experts and the Mexican government previously announced a plan to catch the few remaining vaquitas and enclose them in pens for protection and possible breeding.

But the World Wildlife Fund argued that is not the answer for the tiny porpoise, saying in a statement that "the only way to save the vaquita from extinction is for the Mexican government to immediately and indefinitely ban all fisheries within its habitat."

That would be a politically and economically costly move for the government. Mexican authorities already banned gillnet fishing in the vaquitas' habitat, but that has proved difficult to enforce.

The WWF published a link to a study done in November by an international committee of experts that used acoustic monitoring to survey the population of the porpoise. The results showed vaquita numbers had declined 90 percent over the last five years, and the study estimated that because numbers have dropped so fast there are probably less than 30 now.

Fishermen lured by Chinese demand for the swim bladder of a fish known as the totoaba, which inhabits the same waters as the vaquita, have decimated the porpoise population. Vaquitas are caught in the same kind of nets that illegal totoaba fishermen use.

The international committee found that illegal fishing continues, saying 31 illegal nets were pulled from the Gulf of California, which is also known as the Sea of Cortez, in October and November.

The WWF called on Mexico's government to extend the gillnet ban and also stop net fishing for corvina, a season that will open soon.

The group also urged the U.S. government "to take swift and decisive action to stop trans-border shipments of totoaba products" and called on the Chinese government "to immediately stop the illegal transport and sale of totoaba products."

Experts acknowledge the catch-and-enclose plan is risky, because the few remaining females could die during capture, dooming the species. Breeding in captivity has successfully saved species such as the red wolf and California condor, but the vaquita has only been scientifically described since the 1950s and has never been bred or even held in captivity.

Still, some experts say the capture program may be the vaquitas' only hope.

But others worry that fishermen may engage in a free-for-all once the endangered vaquita is removed and thus wipe out other species in the gulf.

Last Call for Vaquita, the Mexican “Panda of the Sea”
WWF 6 Feb 17;

Mexico City (6 February) – Last week, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) announced that only about 30 vaquitas are estimated to survive, compared to 60 individuals last year.

The world’s smallest porpoise, the vaquita, is endemic to Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. The single biggest threat to the species are fishing nets that inadvertently catch and drown them, most notably gillnets used to illegally catch the critically endangered totoaba fish. The totoaba’s swim bladder is a highly-prized delicacy in Asia and follows an illegal trade route from Mexico to China, through the United States.

As the latest numbers highlight the urgent need for action, WWF reaffirms its conviction that the only way to save the vaquita from extinction is for the Mexican government to immediately and indefinitely ban all fisheries within its habitat and ensure full and effective enforcement.

WWF urges the Mexican government to:

Immediately crack down on the illegal totoaba fishery, expanding upon the important ongoing efforts of the Mexican Navy and the Ministry of Environment.

Ensure the full commitment and support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (SAGARPA).

Stop the corvina gillnet fishery, which provides cover for illegal totoaba gillnets, and is expected to start this month.

Extend indefinitely the current two-year gillnet ban, which is due to expire in April.

Continue and expand efforts to retrieve and destroy “ghost nets” within vaquita habitats.

Work with fishing communities to find suitable economic alternatives and renew efforts to scale up the use of vaquita-safe fishing gear to ensure they and their families can have a more sustainable way of life.

In addition, WWF is also urging the U.S. government to take swift and decisive action to stop transborder shipments of totoaba products and calling for the Chinese government to immediately stop the illegal transport and sale of totoaba products.

WWF reiterates its commitment to continue working with fishing communities, the Mexican government, the international community and donors to ensure a future for vaquita, alongside sustainable livelihoods for local communities. This includes continued support of the Mexican government’s efforts to retrieve and destroy “ghost nets” within the habitat of the vaquita, as well as finding vaquita-safe fishing techniques.

After the Chinese river dolphin was driven to extinction in 2006, the world is now on the brink of losing a second cetacean species due to human activities. We cannot allow this to happen.

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