Best of our wild blogs: 9 Feb 17

Monitoring our reefs (Pt 2)
Hantu Blog

Pulau Hantu Intertidal Trip
Offshore Singapore

Butterfly Photography 101 - Part 6
Butterflies of Singapore

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Dutch firm KCAP to create Jurong Lake District

Jose Hong, The New Paper AsiaOne 9 Feb 17;

A Dutch-led team will help create the new Jurong Lake District, beating out four others with its vision.

KCAP Architects&Planner's proposal comprises four large interconnected parks, buildings 30 to 40 storeys high each with a rooftop garden, and a canal that borders the district centre.

This will be Rotterdam-based KCAP's first project with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Ms Yvonne Lim, URA's group director for physical planning, emphasised that the vision from KCAP's team was aspirational, and many details had yet to be finalised.

However, she said its proposal won because it "had given very sensitive focus on 'green' and 'blue', with ideas to weave new waterways and greenery from the gardens into the entire district, thus giving it a very distinctive identity".

The 360ha site will comprise three precincts: Jurong Gateway, Lakeside and Lakeside Gateway.

It will function as Singapore's second central business district and will be the location of the terminus for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail.

Ms Lim added that URA liked its focus on walkable streets and interactive public spaces for social activities.

KCAP will next work with government agencies to draw up detailed proposals for the district.

The public will have the chance to give feedback on these proposals in the middle of the year. URA will work with KCAP and relevant agencies to incorporate the feedback, where appropriate, before finalising the masterplan by year end.

The Straits Times understands the plan will be implemented in stages over the next 10 to 30 years once construction begins.

'Sensitive focus' on nature helps KCAP win Jurong Lake District contract
Today Online 8 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: The team led by KCAP Architects&Planners is to develop the detailed master plan for Jurong Lake District, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced on Wednesday (Feb 8).

The team's proposal received the highest score among those of the five teams shortlisted for stage 2 of the Jurong Lake District request for proposal (RFP) exercise, the agency added in its press release.

URA said KCAP's proposal best met the expectations and requirements of the RFP. "At the heart of the proposal is its sensitive focus on water and greenery, which incorporates new waterways and a series of green spaces and connections that weave through the entire district to create a strong, distinctive identity," it said.

The evaluation panel was also impressed with the proposed urban typology that integrates with the green setting beside Jurong Lake, which at the same time places emphasis on creating active, walkable streets and interactive public spaces", according to the press release.

KCAP and its team will work with URA and relevant agencies to refine the master plan and draw up detailed proposals for the Jurong Lake District over the next few months, and these proposals will be exhibited in the middle of this year, the agency said.

The public is encouraged to give their feedback on the detailed proposals during this period, after which URA will work with the consultant to incorporate the feedback before finalising the master plan, it added.

- CNA/kk

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Singaporeans willing to fork out 1% of income to ensure no more haze: Study

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 9 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — People in Singapore are willing to cough up nearly 1 per cent of their annual income in order to guarantee the absence of transboundary haze for a year, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have found.

In total, they are willing to pay US$643.5 million (S$913 million) a year — large enough to make a “substantive impact on the problem” if used for land conservation and restoration, the researchers state in a paper published in February’s issue of the journal, Environmental Research Letters.

The paper’s authors, Ms Yuan Lin, Mr Lahiru Wijedasa and Dr Ryan Chisholm, wrote: “Our results indicate that Singaporeans experience sufficiently negative impacts of air pollution (in) their day-to-day life, or personal health during haze periods, that they are willing to trade off personal financial gain for improvements in air quality.”

Transboundary haze is a long-standing problem in the South-east Asian region, largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland as well as companies and farmers in Indonesia using fire to clear land. Singapore experienced its worst haze episode in 2015 from September to November, with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting hazardous levels. Since then, Indonesia has renewed efforts to prevent fires, although a state of emergency was declared last month in Riau province over forest and land fires.

The economic impact of haze pollution here has been estimated using cost-benefit analysis before, but the researchers said that the figures could be an under-estimate because they exclude impacts — such as non-hospitalisable health effects — that are difficult to infer from economic data. The 2015 haze episode was estimated to have cost Singapore S$700 million in losses.

The NUS researchers surveyed 390 people in public areas from November 2015 to February 2016 on their willingness to pay, should the Singapore Government be able to guarantee good air quality year-round. The participants, from various age and income groups, were given options ranging from 0.05 per cent to 5 per cent of their annual income, after they indicated if they were willing to support such a haze mitigation fund.

The average person’s willingness to pay was an estimated 0.97 per cent of his/her annual income. However, about three in 10 respondents were unwilling to pay even the minimum option of 0.05 per cent of their annual income.

Mr Wijedasa said that one of the solutions proposed for the haze problem is payments for ecosystem services. “This could take the form of richer nations aiding better land management and restoration by making regular payments,” he said. “Indonesia has estimated that it needs US$2.1 billion to help restore two million hectares of peatland in (the country). They have currently only received US$50 million from Norway and US$17 million from the United States. Could this shortfall be filled by Singapore (and other countries in the region)?”

Mr Tan Yi Han, who is not involved in the study and is co-founder of non-governmental organisation People’s Movement to Stop Haze, said that the findings are helpful and “should motivate the Singapore Government to spend on measures to prevent haze, such as a subsidy on certified sustainable palm oil, as well as aid to support peat restoration and protection efforts in Indonesia”.

His organisation’s survey last year found that more than nine in 10 respondents were willing to pay more for certified sustainable products to help mitigate the haze, Mr Tan said. Most were willing to pay 5 to 10 per cent more.

Consumers game to chip in to avoid any haze include Mr Steven Lim, who is in his 40s and self-employed. How much he is willing to contribute would depend on the amount needed to make an impact. “Maybe S$10? Multiplied by many individuals, it would be a lot,” Mr Lim said, preferring that the money goes to the Indonesian government. Neo Chai Chin

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Trial to curb Aedes mosquito numbers yields ‘valuable data’

ALFRED CHUA Today Online 8 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Some three months since male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released into three housing estates as part of a field study to control the mosquito population, results so far have been encouraging, with the National Environment Agency (NEA) saying the initiative has provided “valuable data”.

At one site — Tampines West — half of the mosquito eggs collected from there did not hatch — a promising step towards the goal of suppressing the mosquito population.

Eggs produced from a male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito and a female urban Aedes aegypti mosquito will not hatch, as they are biologically incompatible.

At a media interview on Wednesday (Feb 8), Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the NEA’s Dengue Expert Advisory Panel, said the results so far show that the male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes are able to successfully mate with female urban Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

“It indicates that the males will be able to compete effectively (against other urban male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes). That’s what we need in order to drive down the mosquito population,” Prof Ferguson said.

The six-month ongoing study, called Project Wolbachia-Singapore, also found out that male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are able to live up to four days after being released in the urban environment, and can fly to high levels when released at ground level.

Prof Duane Gubler, who chairs the panel, said a male mosquito’s lifespan will affect its probability of mating with females. Noting that male mosquitoes typically live less than a week, Prof Gubler said if mosquitoes are released when older, they could be less potent. “If you reduce the age (at release) by a day, it could (yield significant results) over a large number of mosquitoes,” he added.

From October last year, male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released in Braddell Heights, Tampines West, and Nee Soon East, testing three study parameters: Fertility, mate-seeking behaviour, and flight ability.

The study will find out if these mosquitoes can help reduce the population of urban Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the virus that causes dengue fever, as well as the Zika and Chikungunya viruses.

The findings from this study will go into refining the design of a larger suppression trial slated to kick off later this year, said the NEA yesterday.

Despite the promising findings so far, the NEA has said they should not be relied on “as our sole strategy”.

“A strong, integrated vector-control programme with community participation, underpinned by Singapore’s well-established programme for the elimination of mosquito breeding habitats and the selective use of insecticides, where necessary, to control the adult mosquito population remain essential for dengue prevention in Singapore,” it said in a media release.

In January, the NEA warned that the number of dengue cases could increase over the next few months, reaching their peak by the middle of this year.

According to the NEA’s dengue website, the total number of dengue cases reported since the start of the year stands at 361, relatively low compared with the similar period in past years.

Last year, there were a total of 13,115 dengue cases, below the projection of more than 30,000 cases. Experts TODAY had spoken to previously had pointed to this decline as a result of the heightened awareness and control measures arising from the Zika outbreak last year.

Wolbachia-carrying mosquito study yields 'valuable' data: NEA
Vanessa Lim Channel NewsAsia 8 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Early findings from an ongoing six-month study showed that the viability of Aedes aegypti mosquito eggs collected from a site at Tampines West has been reduced by about half, said the National Environment Agency's (NEA) Dengue Expert Advisory Panel (DEAP) on Wednesday (Feb 8).

The small-scale field study involves releasing male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to understand their behaviour and see if they can suppress the population of urban Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

While the male mosquitoes may fly around and enter homes to seek out females and find shelter, they will not bite or transmit disease. Eggs produced from the male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito and a female urban Aedes aegypti mosquito will not hatch.

Since October 2016, these male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been released on a regular basis at three selected sites located at Braddell Heights, Nee Soon East and Tampines West.

These estates have seen dengue outbreaks previously and have Aedes aegypti mosquitoes present in the environment.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a DEAP member, explained the significance of the findings from the study: "This is important because it indicates that the male Wolbachia mosquito can successfully mate with Aedes aegypti female mosquito and that's what we need to drive down the mosquito population."

In addition, the study found that male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are able to live up to four days after being released in the urban environment, and can fly up to high levels and travel more than 40m horizontally.

DEAP chairman Professor Duane Gubler, said: "This suggests that they are as fit as male wild Aedes aegypti mosquitos. It tells us how frequently you have to release these mosquitos, so that we can better calibrate their releases."


The study, called Project Wolbachia-Singapore, has made "good progress" and yielded "valuable data to guide the next phase of trials", said NEA in a media release on Wednesday.

It added that over the next few months, more data will be collected to refine the design of the larger suppression trial planned for later this year.

The suppression trial will test the utility and effectiveness of releasing male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to surpress the Aedes aegypti mosquito population.

"Nothing the panel has seen has caused any hesitation in proceeding with the project. But there's a lot to be learnt before the decision to expand the project can be made,” said Prof Gubler.

To do that, experts have suggested tweaking the study to increase the number of male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitos being released.

"Right now, the preliminary data doesn't get us the results we want to see,” explained Prof Gubler. “We need to increase the number of mosquitos to be released to see a larger impact."

NEA appointed the DEAP in June 2014 to provide professional advice on new methods of dengue control, particularly on the use of Wolbachia-carrying male mosquitoes.

- CNA/xk

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Govt will ensure ‘higher water prices do not hurt Singapore’s competitiveness’

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 9 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Water prices have been too low, but in raising them, the Government will be mindful of the need to not make it uncompetitive for businesses to operate here, the authorities said yesterday at a pre-Budget consultation session on water demand management.

The session was held a day after Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) Masagos Zulkifli announced that water prices would increase after remaining unchanged for 17 years, to reflect the cost of production and to encourage conservation.

The 32 participants included representatives from heavy users such as the semiconductor and petrochemical industries, building owners as well as individuals and academics.

“There was a view that by announcing a water price increase, it would deter new industries from coming to Singapore,” Mr Masagos told reporters on the sidelines of the session.

“While we need to increase our price, we are also mindful that we have to be competitive globally.”

National water agency PUB will “ensure while it needs to recover its costs, it cannot do so by sacrificing the competitiveness of Singapore to attract industries to come in, and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen”, he said.

Currently, non-domestic users consume 55 per cent of Singapore’s water, and the proportion is set to hit 70 per cent by 2060. Petrochemicals and chemicals companies as well as refineries make up 17 per cent of non-domestic water demand, followed by wafer fabrication, semiconductor and electronics firms at 13 per cent.

Other water guzzlers include hotels (3 per cent), retail and office buildings (2 per cent), purpose-built dormitories (2 per cent) and government premises (2 per cent).

Participants from industry said water efficiency measures and incentives need to be taken upstream because retrofitting is costly and difficult. Since 2015, non-domestic users that consume more than 60,000 cubic metres of water per year have had to submit water-efficiency management plans to PUB annually for at least three consecutive years.

The participants said PUB should, in turn, provide them with more data on benchmarks.

They also highlighted obstacles in their quest to save water. Some building owners use rainwater for flushing toilets, but the rainwater may be slightly discoloured, and patrons end up flushing several times, for instance.

In office and commercial buildings, about half of the water used is for air-con chillers, while 40 per cent is for restrooms, and the remainder is for general washing and irrigation.

Wafer fabrication plants may want to increase the amount of water recycled — the average is 45 per cent —but this will mean the concentration of substances such as sulphates in their discharge will be higher, said another participant.

Meanwhile, domestic users suggested that the PUB replace old appliances in older flats that are not water efficient, and that the agency share data on the precinct level to get people to save water. There could be also be initiatives such as a Dirty Car Day, they said.

MEWR permanent secretary Choi Shing Kwok acknowledged suggestions to fine-tune some policies. He agreed with the need to ensure flushing cisterns and other appliances “work effectively before measuring whether (they’re) saving water”, and said the authorities could look into whether the policy on the number of water meters allowed is overly restrictive.

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Flash floods hit Orchard Road, Bugis areas

Channel NewsAsia 8 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: A sudden bout of heavy rain in the late afternoon caused flash floods in several areas of central Singapore on Wednesday (Feb 8).

Flash floods were reported at Orchard Boulevard and at the junction of Hill Street and Stamford Road near Bugis around 6pm, but the areas were still passable to traffic, national water agency PUB tweeted.

Photos sent to Channel NewsAsia by reader Marcus Sia showed the situation outside Orchard Plaza at about 6pm. The flooding subsided about 15 minutes later, PUB said.

PUB also tweeted that there was a high flood risk at Exeter and Somerset Roads at 6.20pm.

Earlier this month, Singapore's met service forecast that the first half of February would be drier and warmer than January, which saw above-normal rainfall, but it said brief thundery showers could be expected.

- CNA/ly

Flash floods in Orchard Road, central areas as heavy rains blanket island
Lydia Lam AsiaOne 9 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE - Flash floods were reported in various parts of Singapore including the Orchard Road area as heavy rains hit the island on Wednesday (Feb 8) evening.

Singapore's water agency PUB said on its Twitter page at about 6pm that there were flash floods at Orchard Boulevard towards Paterson Road, and at the junction of Hill Street and Stamford Road.

Traffic was passable, PUB said.

It also issued high flood risks for other areas including Veerasamy Road in Little India; Exeter Road and Somerset Road; and Chin Bee Avenue in Taman Jurong.

A large tree fell at Victoria Street during the downpour, blocking four lanes.

The Land Transport Authority on its Twitter page said at 6.28pm that there was an obstacle on Victoria Street towards Bras Basah Road.

PUB had earlier quoted the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) 5.04pm warning of heavy rain over many areas of Singapore from 5.25pm to 6.30pm.

Orchard Road was hit by a series of flash floods between 2010 and 2012, although the situation improved after major anti-flood measures including a diversion canal were carried out in the area.

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Cases of engines left idling on the rise despite higher fines

Today Online 8 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Despite the fact that the stiffer fines for those who repeatedly leave their vehicle engines idling have made some impact, the total number of cases of engines left running continued to increase last year.

After the higher fines took effect in June last year, the average number of offenders issued with warning letters or fines per month decreased by about 25 per cent compared with the five-month period before that, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in response to queries.

In the first five months of last year, there were 416 cases, or 83 cases a month, that warranted warning letters or fines.

After the enhanced fine kicked in, there were 442 cases from June to December, or an average of 63 cases a month. For the whole year, however, the total was 858 cases, an increase from 2015 when there were 633 cases, or an average of 53 cases a month.

Including cases that only involved advisories issued to errant drivers, the NEA took enforcement action for over 6,000 cases last year, up from 5,100 in 2015.

“When the enhanced penalty for idling engine offences was announced, there was an increase in feedback and we stepped up our enforcement efforts, and more warning letters and fines per month were issued than previously,” the NEA said.

Leaving the engine of a motor vehicle running when it is stationary for reasons other than traffic conditions is an offence.

Amid an upward trend of such cases and concerns over pollution, the NEA last year enhanced the penalties.

Motorists caught leaving their vehicle engines idling for a second or subsequent time face a fine of S$100, up from S$70 previously.

If the sum is not paid, the motorist could be fined up to S$5,000 in court.

Exempted from the rule are vehicles that need their engines left on for machinery such as chiller trucks, buses and taxis in a queue at designated stops, emergency vehicles such as ambulances and vehicles undergoing inspection or maintenance.

The NEA said that drivers of commercial vehicles such as trucks, vans, private buses and taxis constituted the majority — more than 70 per cent — of offenders last year. There were a total of 10 repeat offenders.

To promote compliance, the NEA will continue to raise awareness among motorists of the requirement to switch off their vehicle engines when waiting, the agency said.

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Indonesia: Sumatra Braces for Wildfires in Upcoming Dry Season

Antara Jakarta Globe 8 Feb 17;

Jakarta. South Sumatra administration is turning attention to preparatory measures against wildfires in the upcoming dry season.

As reported by Antara news agency, South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin on Tuesday (07/02) requested the province's Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) to coordinate with relevant institutions and keep an eye on fire-prone areas, such as Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin, and keep its officers and equipment on standby.

All 17 districts of the province have been warned about the hazards of slash and burn practices and sanctions will be imposed on those who clear their land with fire.

Meanwhile, Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has issued an alert for peatland and forest fires in the province until April 30.

"Riau in 2016 has put out 83.2 percent of fires. While in 2015, 2.6 million hectares of land were burnt, it was only 438,000 hectares last year," Arsyadjuliandi has earlier told Antara.

He had requested industry players to make use of their CCTV monitoring systems to detect early signs of wildfires, and established a joint team of the police, military, air force and public prosecution officials to battle possible outbreaks.

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Indonesia: Government wins in forest fire case

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 9 Feb 17;

Ministry wins another case in court against firm responsible for forest burning Court orders fine of US$35 million for Waringin Agro Jaya

In the fight against deforestation and forest fires, the Environment and Forestry Ministry is on a winning streak, with the courts ruling in favor of the government in cases against companies.

Still, the enforcing of penalties remains weak.

In its latest victory, the South Jakarta District Court found palm oil company PT Waringin Agro Jaya (WAJ) guilty on Tuesday of illegally starting a forest fire to clear land in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra. The court ordered the company to pay Rp 466.5 billion (US$35 million), Rp 173.5 billion of which will serve as compensation for the burning of 1,626 hectares of land in its land concession and another Rp 293 billion to cover the rehabilitation cost for the burned land.

The fine was lower than the ministry’s demand of Rp 754 billion.

The ministry welcomed the decision by the judges, who “showed support for the environment,” said Bambang Hero Saharjo, forest fire expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) who also served as an expert witness for the government in the case.

He also commended the court for holding the company liable.

WAJ attorney M. Sidik Latuconsina said the company’s legal team would file an appeal.

The ruling adds to the list of government victories in cases pertaining to forest fires. The Supreme Court ruled in November PT Merbau Pelalawan Lestari (MPL) guilty of illegally clearing forests in Pelalawan regency, Riau, from 2004 to 2006. It was a landmark court ruling as the pulp and paper company was ordered to pay Rp 16 trillion in fines, the highest in any case of environmental destruction in the nation’s history.

(Read also: Indonesian government remains vigilant on forest fires)

PT National Sago Prima (NSP) was found guilty in August 2016 of illegally starting forest fires in its concession area in Meranti Islands regency, Riau, and ordered to pay Rp 1.07 trillion in fines. In the same month, the Palembang High Court in South Sumatra found pulpwood firm PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) guilty of illegally starting fires in its concession in 2014.

The high court had ordered the firm to pay Rp 78.5 billion in damages, a fraction of the Rp 7.8 trillion fine sought by the ministry when it first filed the civil suit against BMH in 2015.

However, none of the companies have paid the fines or compensation.

The ministry’s law enforcement director general, Rasio Ridho Sani, acknowledged that it was a challenge for the ministry to enforce verdicts. It takes time for verdicts to be enforced because the ministry has to wait for the official record of the verdict to be available, which can take months to more than a year. Moreover, there is no standard operating procedure for the enforcement of forest-related rulings. The ministry is pushing for the Supreme Court to issue a regulation on its judges to help with the enforcement of penalties.

“We’re still fighting [to get the companies to pay the fines],” he said, adding that the ministry was also aiming to enforce a verdict against palm oil company PT Kallista Alam, which was implicated in a case that reached a final and binding verdict in September 2015 at the Supreme Court. Kallista Alam had been ordered to pay a Rp 366 billion fine for illegally burning large swathes of Tripa forest in Aceh.

After more than one year since the Supreme Court ruling, the company has yet to pay the fine. It has also been nearly three years since mining company PT Selat Nasik Indokwarsa was found guilty of environment damage on Belitung Island. The company was ordered to pay Rp 31.5 billion in fines, but also has yet to pay the government.

“The company asked to make payments over 15 years. But we can’t allow that,” the ministry’s environmental dispute settlement director, Jasmin Ragil Utomo said.

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Australia probes coal spill near Great Barrier Reef

Reuters 8 Feb 17;

Coal has washed up in waters dangerously close to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, environmental authorities said on Wednesday, following an investigation into complaints of black dust on nearby beaches.

Ship-loading facilities at the port of Hay Point, which ships tens of millions of tonnes of coal annually to export markets worldwide, are at the center of the investigation by authorities in the northeastern state of Queensland.

But it was too early to say if the Hay Point port was the source of the coal and fine dust that washed up on the nearby beaches of East Point and Louisa Creek, the state's environment minister, Steven Miles, told reporters.

"The impact on marine life and the reef is likely to be quite localized," Miles added. "Provided the source can be identified and we can ensure it is not continuing to spill, it is likely to be possible to clean up."

Hay Point is the largest of several coal ports located near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and a flashpoint for environmentalists concerned over runoff contamination of the reef, a World Heritage site.

"This is another example of why coal and the Great Barrier Reef don’t mix," said Sam Regester, campaigns director for the activist group GetUp! "We know more ships and more coal equals more accidents."

In December, Australia earmarked expenditure of A$1.3 billion ($992 million) over the next five years to improve the water quality of the reef, to keep it off the United Nation's "in danger" list.

Activists say the money is insufficient and want to see more concrete action to protect the reef.

More than two million people visit the reef each year, generating more than A$2 billion ($1.53 billion) in tourism dollars, an Australian government report showed in 2016.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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