Rooting out sick trees

Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Feb 17;

Trees in Singapore are inspected in accordance with global standards and at times, the inspections are even more stringent, said National Parks Board (NParks) yesterday in the wake of two separate incidents involving fallen trees.

A 40m-tall tembusu heritage tree in the Botanic Gardens fell last Saturday killing one and injuring several others, and on Monday, a tree fell in a Yuan Ching Road carpark, sending a woman to the intensive care unit. The tree in Yuan Ching Road comes under the purview of the Singapore Land Authority, while the one in the Botanic Gardens was monitored by NParks.

NParks said checks on trees in high-traffic sites, such as expressways and major roads, are done once every six to 12 months. This is more frequent than the International Society of Arboriculture's guideline of checking "high-risk" sites once every one to two years.

Trees which are located in areas with high human traffic could also be inspected more frequently than once a year because high activity can cause the soil in their root zone to get compacted, which could in turn impede root growth.

There are 500 certified arborists in Singapore, of which 200 are from NParks.

Mr Oh Cheow Sheng, group director of streetscape at NParks, yesterday explained its inspection regime at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Inspections start with "first-level" visual checks - where NParks arborists look out for things like leaf-shedding, cracked branches and slanted trunks in order to assess if more checks are needed on the tree.

If internal decay, for instance, is suspected, a "second-level" check is conducted using diagnostic tools such as a resistograph to confirm or contradict the suspicion. The resistograph is used to drill into the tree's trunk at a constant speed, and the resistance the drill meets is recorded and analysed. Decayed wood would offer less resistance.

NParks said it is developing modelling techniques to better understand the structural behaviour of trees under environmental conditions like rain, wind and soil quality.

Said Mr Oh: "Bear in mind that trees are living organisms, they are not engineered structures, they will react to changes in environmental conditions, site conditions and soil conditions." He added that "healthy trees can still be affected by strong wind gusts and heavy rainfall".

NParks declined to comment on the fatal incident as investigations are ongoing.

NParks arborists inspect trees under its purview; job not outsourced: Lawrence Wong
Channel NewsAsia 28 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Trees under the National Parks Board's (NParks) purview are inspected by its own certified arborists, and the job is not outsourced to landscape companies, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Feb 28).

And should accidents happen and trees fall due to natural causes, NParks’ public liability insurance only covers claims where NParks has been shown to be negligent, said Mr Wong.

Mr Wong was responding to a question tabled in Parliament by Member of Parliament (MP) for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari about the massive Tembusu tree that toppled at the Botanic Gardens, killing a woman and injuring four others.

The tree had been inspected last September and given a clean bill of health.

On Tuesday, Mr Wong said that if NParks is shown to have exercised its duty of care in keeping to its tree management regime, its public liability insurance will not pay out as it would not be culpable for circumstances beyond its control.

In his written Parliamentary reply, Mr Wong said that beyond regular inspections, NParks prunes trees to make them more resistant to storms. It also substitutes storm-vulnerable species like the Albizia with hardier trees.

He added that NParks' tree management programme has reduced the number of "tree incidents" by more than three-fold since 2001.

- CNA/xk

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Monsoon surge in South China Sea expected to weaken in next 2 days: MSS

Channel NewsAsia 16 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: A monsoon surge that has strengthened winds over the South China Sea and brought extensive raincloud cover over the surrounding region is expected to weaken in the next one or two days, Singapore's met services said on Thursday.

In an advisory, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said for the rest of February, short thundery showers are expected in the afternoon on six to eight days, and could extend into the evening on a few days. The rainfall for the month is expected to be "slightly above normal" and temperatures could dip to 22°C on rainy days.

Daily temperature on most days is likely to be between 24°C and 33°C, though MSS said some warm days can be expected in the later part of the fortnight, where the daily maximum temperature could reach a high of 34°C.

MSS said in the first half of the month, Singapore experienced Northeast Monsoon conditions with moderate to heavy thundery showers on several afternoons. The showers were heaviest on Feb 8, when flash floods were reported in the Orchard Road and Bugis areas. The highest daily rainfall recorded was 108.2mm around the Orchard Road area, MSS said.

The monsoon surge between Feb 12 and 15 snapped a brief spell of dry weather and saw temperatures dip to 22.5°C. The highest maximum wind gust recorded this month was 67.4km/h at Marina Barrage on Feb 12 and at the Changi climate station, wind gusts of up to 48.2km/h were recorded during the monsoon surge period.

About two-thirds of the island saw above-normal rainfall in the first half of February, with the highest rainfall of 154mm (141 per cent above average) recorded around Pasir Ris.

- CNA/dl

Hot days ahead, but temperatures could drop to 22°C over next 2 weeks
Today Online 16 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Singapore could see sharp swings in day-to-day temperatures over the final two weeks of February.

The daily minimum temperature could dip to around 22°C on rainy days, while some warm days can be expected in the later part of the fortnight, where the daily maximum temperature could reach a high of 34°C, said Meteorological Service Singapore on Thursday (Feb 16).

Short-duration thundery showers can be expected in the afternoon on six to eight days over the next fortnight, and could extend into the evening on a few days.

In the first half of February, the brief dry spell in Singapore was broken in the second week by a monsoon surge between Feb 12-15 when windy and cool conditions were felt. The highest maximum wind gust was recorded on Feb 12 at the Marina Barrage — 67.4kmh.

The highest total daily rainfall recorded so far this month was on Feb 8 at the Orchard Road area — 108.2mm. On that day, flash floods were sighted on Orchard Boulevard towards Paterson Road, and at the junction of Hill Street/Stamford Road at around 6pm. The PUB had said then on Twitter that both floods subsided in about 15 minutes, and traffic remained passable.

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Malaysia: Johor on high alert for leptospirosis cases at flood hit areas

ZAZALI MUSA The Star 16 Feb 17;

JOHOR BARU: The state Health Department is closely monitoring the situation in flood-hit districts in Johor to ensure there are no leptospirosis (rat urine disease) cases.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the authorities would be on alert after three people in Tanah Merah, Kelantan contracted the disease from floodwaters there.

“Although there are no reported cases of leptospirosis in the post-flood period in Johor, we are not taking any chances,’’ he said when contacted on Monday.

Ayub said normally, it would take five days to a week for a person to develop the signs or symptoms of leptospirosis depending on their immune system and that the cases varied from one person to another.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals.

It is caused by bacteria of the genus leptospira and in humans, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases.

Among the symptoms are intense headache, fever, muscle ache, especially in the calf muscles and lumbar region, pain in the joints, red eyes, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

Some people who are infected with the disease may have no symptoms at all.

He said the last case of leptospirosis in Johor was in Segamat district in 2015, and that the victim who succumbed to infection died five days after the victim was admitted to hospital.

“A single gulp of water from a river, pond, waterfall or flood waters can expose people to the disease and parents should closely monitor them and prevent them from playing in floodwaters.

“My advice to those affected is to seek treatment at the nearest clinic or hospital and not to take these symptoms lightly,’’ said Ayub.

Floods in Johor started in the last week of December 2016, affecting eight districts – Segamat, Muar, Tangkak, Kota Tinggi, Kluang, Mersing, Batu Pahat and Johor Baru - with some 9,000 victims placed in 101 flood relief centres.

He said cleaning activities at the flood-hit districts ended on Feb 11, involving fogging at 3,613 shops and houses, larviciding to kill Aedes mosquito larvae at 795 premises and rat and flies at 3,550 premises.

News reports quoted Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam saying blood and urine samples taken from the three people in Tanah Merah confirmed they had leptospirosis and not severe pneumonia as suspected earlier.

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Seagrass meadows that protect humans from deadly bacteria in alarming global decline

Underwater meadows that protect humans from deadly bacteria in alarming global decline
'The beautiful oceanside water looked blue-green, but truly it was filled with dangerous pollution,' says scientist after entire team became sick
Ian Johnston The Independent 16 Feb 17;

Beautiful underwater gardens massively reduce levels of potentially deadly bacteria in the sea — preventing humans from getting diseases like dysentery and typhoid — researchers have discovered.

But these idyllic meadows of seagrasses, the most common coastal ecosystem on Earth, are in serious trouble with dramatic, year-on-year declines recorded since 1990.

And that could mean further problems for coral, upon which much of marine life depends, which is also suffers from bacterial infections. Coral is already experiencing major bleaching events as the temperature of seas around the world rises.

It is known that seagrasses have an antibacterial effect, but the findings of the new study of heavily populated islands in the Spermonde archipelago in Indonesia were unexpectedly dramatic.

For in areas near the meadows, the amount of bacteria was about half the levels found in places with no seagrass.

For the scientists involved this was not simply a matter of science, but their own health.

Professor Drew Harvell, of Cornell University, had been investigating the health of corals with colleagues in the archipelago when the entire research team fell ill with dysentery and one scientist even got typhoid.

“I experienced firsthand how threats to both human health and coral health were linked,” he said.

“The beautiful oceanside water looked blue-green, but truly it was filled with dangerous pollution — some really bad stuff in the water close to shore.

“The genetic sequencing work pinpointed the kinds of bacteria —all in difficult, arduous conditions. It showed exactly what was in the water.”

In tests, the water was found to contain 10 times the level of one type of bacteria, called Enterococcus, that is considered safe.

Dr Joleah Lamb, also of Cornell University, and colleagues to return to investigate further and this led them to the discovery of just how effective seagrasses are at reducing harmful bacteria.

Writing in the journal Science, they said: “We found that when seagrass meadows are present, there was a 50 per cent reduction in the relative abundance of potential bacterial pathogens capable of causing disease in humans and marine organisms.

“Moreover, field surveys of more than 8,000 reef-building corals located adjacent to seagrass meadows showed two-fold reductions in disease levels compared to corals at paired sites without adjacent seagrass meadows.

“These results highlight the importance of seagrass ecosystems to the health of humans and other organisms.”

Further studies revealed the numbers of several pathogens that affect fish and invertebrates were also about 50 per cent lower in seagrass gardens.

But Dr Lamb warned the meadows themselves were in sharp decline.

”Global loss of seagrass meadows is about seven per cent each year since 1990," she said.

“Hopefully this research will provide a clear message about the benefits of seagrasses for human and marine health that will resonate globally.

“Our goal is to stop measuring things dying and find solutions. Ecosystem services like seagrass meadow habitats are a solution to improve the health of people and the environment. Biodiversity is good for our health.”

The antibiotic properties of seagrasses have already been used to save billions of pounds.

For example, New York City decided to buy and restore a wetland area instead of building an $8bn (£6.4bn) water treatment plant.

Ocean meadows scrub seawater of harmful bacteria
Seagrasses keep waterborne pathogens in check, potentially benefiting people and coral reefs.
Jason Bittel Nature 16 Feb 17;

Seagrass meadows are the most widespread coastal ocean ecosystems in the world. Research now finds that these plants can reduce the load of disease-causing bacteria such as Enterococcus in the surrounding seawater by up to 50%. What’s more, coral reefs also show a 50% reduction in disease when seagrasses live nearby.

The meadows act as nurseries that shelter young animals, and provide permanent homes for creatures including fish, crabs and shrimp. The plants are also superstars when it comes to carbon sequestration. Now findings published 16 February in Science1 add a health-care component to the long list of ecosystem services that seagrasses provide.

“This study touches on something that is often ignored or forgotten,” says Lina Mtwana Nordlund, a marine and environmental researcher at Stockholm University. That’s the ability of seagrasses to ameliorate the effects of terrestrial pollution on the marine environment.

The study’s authors didn’t investigate how exactly seagrasses neutralize bacteria. But lead author Drew Harvell, a marine ecologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, suggests several possible mechanisms: oxygen produced by the plants could kill certain bacteria; filter-feeding animals living in seagrass meadows might strain out pathogens; or microbes could end up physically stuck to seagrass blades.

“Since seagrasses remove sediment and particulates from the water, it is not a stretch to expect bacteria and surface-associated pathogens to also be removed from the overlying waters,” says Frederick Short, director of SeagrassNet, a global monitoring and information network for seagrass meadows. “It’s a major finding to have convincing data on yet another important function of seagrass habitat.”


A mass illness affecting participants of a workshop in 2011 inspired Harvell to look into the effects that seagrass meadows could have on pathogens. During a programme on coral health in Indonesia, everyone who went into the water, including Harvell, came down with amoebic dysentery. One researcher caught typhoid fever.

This is because relatively small islands like those in the Spermonde Archipelago, where the dives took place, can have thin, poor soil that does not soak up wastewater. The island communities often lack basic sanitation systems, so human waste and the accompanying bacteria can end up in the waves.

Harvell’s team returned in 2014 to take samples, and found that levels of Enterococcus — which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and nausea — in some areas were about ten times what the US Environmental Protection Agency considers safe. But contamination was lower in areas with seagrass meadows. The team also found drastic reductions in disease among corals near seagrasses.

“I think this research is a huge contribution to helping us understand the demise of coral reefs occurring in many locations,” says Esther Peters, a marine biologist who studies coral disease at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “I did not have any idea that seagrasses could be so important to corals by reducing potential bacterial pathogens.”

In decline

Although the findings are promising, Nordlund would like to see the research expanded to a larger scale, with a broader range of seagrass species and densities.

Species come in a range of sizes: from hovering just a centimetre or two above the sea bed to towering several metres into the water column. And seagrass roots penetrate to different depths, depending on the species and the make-up of the sediment. This probably means that different species can scrub varying amounts of bacteria out of the water, Nordlund says.

Nevertheless, Short is pleased to see the results of the study, especially given that seagrass habitats are in decline around the world — mostly owing to the effects of human activity, including pollution, nutrient-rich run-off from farms and lawns and damage from boats. “It may help to convince people worldwide of the need to protect and restore seagrasses,” he says.

'Seagrasses' vital to coastal health
Jonathan Amos BBC 17 Feb 17;

The importance of seagrasses to the health of coastal ecosystems is underlined in new research conducted around Indonesian atolls.
These underwater flowering plants, which have been with us since the age of the dinosaurs, have long been known to have anti-microbial properties.

But the latest study demonstrates that their presence really does help to suppress pollution.

Coral reefs also seem to be in a better condition when the grasses are nearby.

Although these plants grow in vast meadows, fringing every continent except Antarctica, they are also being damaged on a large scale by human activities, with global losses estimated at 7% each year since 1990.

Dr Joleah Lamb and colleagues tell this week's Science Magazine that the "ecosystem services" provided by the grasses should be valued more highly.

"The plants play so many important roles and what we've shown is just another reason to support their conservation," the Cornell University, New York, researcher said.

Dr Lamb described her work here in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Her team sampled seawater in the vicinity of four islands close to Sulawesi where untreated wastewater is allowed to get into the ocean.

Using a genetic probe, the researchers measured the levels in the water of Enterococcus-type bacteria, which can cause infections in humans, fish and invertebrates.

They found the load of these potentially pathogenic marine bacteria to be reduced by half when seagrass meadows were present, compared with sites that did not have the plants.

"We don't really understand the exact mechanisms that are driving the reduction in the load of harmful bacteria, but it could be the result of the seagrasses themselves and their natural chemistry, or the other organisms that are filtering the water within the seagrass meadows," she told BBC News.

"But it could also be that because they're plants, they're adding a lot of oxygen to the water through photosynthesis. That's interesting because wastewater treatment facilities will often use pulses of oxygen to deactivate bacterial pathogens."

Seagrass meadows and coral reefs are tightly linked habitats, and the team also examined more than 8,000 reef-building corals at the atolls for visual signs of the tissue loss that is characteristic of active disease lesions.

The scientists did this along reefs with and without adjacent seagrass meadows. And, again, the prevalence of disease was 50% less on those reefs paired with seagrass meadows.

The mechanism here could have something to do with the way the plants anchor sediment, preventing it from moving over corals. Other studies have suggested pathogens could be transmitted this way on sediment particles.

Seagrass meadows are being damaged worldwide, through coastal development, port development, destructive fishing practices, and excessive sediment run-off from land.

But the hope is that this study will make people sit up and take notice of what seagrasses offer.

And co-author Jeroen van de Water, from the Scientific Center in Monaco, put forward one suggestion that would certainly raise their "dollar value".

"Aquaculture is undergoing a big increase worldwide because of the global food shortage. But because marine organisms (in fish farms and the like) are densely populated, disease outbreaks are quite a problem.

"Maybe it would be interesting to integrate seagrass treatment systems with aquaculture, to reduce the cost on the environment but also economically."

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Indonesia: Forest cover maps to remain confidential -- Court

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 16 Feb 17;

The State Administrative High Court (PTUN) ruled on Thursday in favor of the Environment and Forestry Ministry, allowing the government to not disclose forest cover maps, which are essential in providing greater transparency on forest governance.

In September 2015, Greenpeace Indonesia filed a lawsuit at the Central Information Commission (KIP) against the ministry for refusing to release various cover maps in shapefile format, which the ministry deems to be confidential documents.

Shapefile format for maps enables users to analyze data by overlaying different maps. It functions to provide greater transparency about who controls areas of land and what happens within those areas.

Last October, the KIP ruled in favor of Greenpeace Indonesia. However, the ministry appealed to the PTUN, which in turn decided that the ministry could keep the documents confidential.

“The future of Indonesia’s forests is getting darker with this ruling. There are many changes within forest areas unknown to the public because the data and information are being kept deliberately by the ministry,” Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Ratri Kusumohartono said.

She said the ruling and the government’s stance meant there was no transparency on forest governance under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration.

“This ruling means that there’s less opportunity for the public to participate in preventing deforestation and forest fires. Meanwhile, important data that was requested by Greenpeace Indonesia is key information to knowing the conditions of our forests today,” Ratri said.

Therefore, Greenpeace Indonesia would file a cassation at the Supreme Court.

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Indonesia, US to cooperate for conservation of Indonesian marine habitats

Antara 16 Feb 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia and the US will cooperate to realize a US$40 million program for the conservation of Indonesias marine habitats and sustainable fishery resources.

"The US and Indonesia have a strong partnership in the maritime sector, including through a new program aimed at protecting the vital marine biodiversity," US Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph Donovan stated during the signing ceremony of a cooperation agreement at the office of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in Jakarta on Thursday.

In addition, Donovan noted that the cooperation covered efforts to promote sustainable use to secure food resources and the livelihood of Indonesians.

The US ambassador explained that the program of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) aims to improve the management of six million hectares of marine habitat and deal with the fishery crisis.

The program also targets to build and support 15 marine protected areas, increase productivity in the fisheries sector, ensure food security and nutrition, and secure sustainable livelihood for the people in 13 districts in the provinces of Maluku, North Maluku, and West Papua.

Meanwhile, Director General of Strengthening Competitiveness of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Nilanto Perbowo outlined the USAIDs program of marine conservation and sustainable fisheries comprising several projects closely related to the priorities of the Indonesian government.

"The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is optimistic of continuing its partnership with the US government," Perbowo emphasized.

The program will also help to overcome important challenges in the management of marine and fishery resources and improve the welfare of coastal communities in the three provinces as the focus of the efforts, Perbowo pointed out.

In addition to offering support to Indonesias efforts to improve the sustainable management of fisheries and conservation of marine biodiversity, the program will assist the country in combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

The signing of the cooperation agreement was also part of the Indonesian Maritime and Fisheries Business Forum, which was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, other government agencies, local governments, as well as entrepreneurs from the fisheries sector.

The Regional Secretariat of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security in Manado City, North Sulawesi Province, has committed to increasing its participation and coordination as well as highlighting several crucial issues.

"The important issues are marine conservation, sustainable fisheries, climate change, marine biodiversity, and food security," Widi A. Pratikto, executive director of the regional secretariat, stated.

The regional secretariat office basically caters to regional interests, but it has a broader interpretation to realize the Indonesian governments commitment to supporting the activities of conservation, sustainable fisheries, and food security in the country as part of the coral triangle region(*)

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