Best of our wild blogs: 6 Mar 17

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

10 weeks of Pesta Ubin in 2017!
Pesta Ubin 2017

Focused on the oil spill in February
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Mangrove Mafia meets Sea Angels
Ubin, Sayang

Pink-necked Green Pigeons (Treron vernans) @ Li Ka Shing Library, Singapore Management University
Monday Morgue

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The urban farming pioneer who wants to feed the city’s soul

Bjorn Low made the work of growing food in urban spaces ‘sexy’, but his other mission is to help city-dwellers reconnect with life. His story on Game Changers.
Steffi Koh Channel NewsAsia 5 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: For four years after giving up his corporate job which was making him miserable, Bjorn Low spend a happy four years working on organic farms in far-flung places such as Scotland, Spain and Japan.

But when he returned to Singapore to start up a farm here, he hit a costly roadblock – he could ill-afford the land he needed. “I wasn’t shocked but surprised,” he said.

“To buy 10 acres of land (about the size of 10 football fields) in the middle of Wales with a river running through, with a farm house, cost less than a HDB flat in Singapore then.”

How could one farm without land? While looking around Singapore, the many green spaces in the midst of urban development triggered an epiphany – why not make use of the many under-utilised spaces to grow food?

That’s when the mission of turning Singapore into an “edible garden city” – which eventually became the name of his enterprise – took shape.

His story is featured Monday’s (Mar 6) episode of Game Changers, a five-part series about local entrepreneurs who shake up the way things are done.


Inspired by what he called a “global movement” of chefs wanting to connect with local farmers, Mr Low started out setting up edible herb gardens - initially using something as simple as stacked wooden boxes - and was soon approached by various hotels and restaurants.

But to grow his business, he needed international chefs and bartenders here to demand locally-grown herbs too.

Convincing them proved to be a challenge. “A lot of the chefs are very used to using Western herbs but they don’t grow very well in our climate,” said Mr Low.

“You need to spend millions of dollars to set up that infrastructure. Using a lot more local herbs and vegetables allows us scale up our operations much faster with lower infrastructure costs.”

An opportunity arose when Spa Esprit Group’s CEO Ms Cynthia Chua approached Mr Low, 36, and together with French chef Benjamin Darnaud – a believer in growing one’s own vegetables – they started Open Farm Community, a restaurant set in an urban farm on Minden Road.

“Urban farming in Singapore was previously unheard of,” said Ms Chua. “But now there is a momentum, there is a rhythm, and it was started because of people who are passionate about it like Bjorn.”

As Mr Low’s business partner, she helped put Edible Garden City on the radar of dining establishments such as the Tippling Club and Jamie’s Italian, encouraging them to use herbs grown in Singapore like cinnamon basil and white pea flowers.


But for Mr Low, the success of Edible Garden City goes beyond being a movement for locally-grown ingredients, to something almost existential in nature.

He described how working on overseas farms had helped his wife, Crystal, and him to escape the accumulated stress of working in the advertising industry.

“Working on the farm made me realise that actually, there is more to life than material wealth,” said Mr Low. “Being in touch with nature, and growing (my) own food, was able to fill up the void in my soul.”

He noted how “being able to nurture something to life” has been observed to help people out of depression. He added: “I’ve a history of depression in my family, so there’s multi-layered motivation for me to continue to do this - not just myself but for everyone in the community.”

His simple and wholesome outlook on life turned out to be contagious.

His employee, Mr Christopher Leow, 29, never thought that he could be a farmer in Singapore until he stumbled upon Mr Low at one of his talks.

“He made farming attractive to young people. He made it very sexy,” said Mr Leow, who used to manage a mobile coffee business. He is now one of 22 employees at Edible Garden City, which had started out with a staff of just three in 2012.


The company’s revenue has since quadrupled to S$800,000 annually in the last four years, a point of success which has helped bury Mr Low’s family’s initial doubts.

“They realised that it’s become a career for me and a business that’s sustainable,” said Mr Low.

Edible Garden City now operates from an 8,000-sqm plot of land in Queenstown. Calling the place “home”, Mr Low said that with the security of a nine-year lease, his team can now “go full steam ahead with experiments” to show how under-used spaces can produce food and add to the aesthetics of the area.

The company is also working with the Spa Esprit group to create skincare and beauty products out of organic herbs. Calendula flowers with their anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, for instance, can be made into creams, soaps and tea, said Mr Low.

“We have to innovate and add value to the crops we are growing so that we can make it a more sustainable industry,” he said.

One project will see Edible Garden City training and employing adults with Down Syndrome to grow mushrooms out of coffee and food waste, as part of their exploration into “closed-loop” farming.

“Essentially, we’re able to deal with the food waste problem in the city itself, and not having to cart it to a landfill,” explained Mr Low. He hopes this model can be scaled into other sites and even abroad - creating employment for slum-dwellers like those in Bangkok and Jakarta.

“It’s really important for me that it takes off, because I feel that, inherently, we can help urbanites reconnect with nature,” said Mr Low. “Gardening and horticulture has a way to let people understand what life is about.”

Catch the second episode of Game Changers, a five-part series about entrepreneurs who believe it’s reinvent or die, on March 6, 8pm SG/HK.

- CNA/yv

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Malaysia: Turtles making a comeback in Terengganu, says varsity

The Star 6 Mar 17;

DUNGUN: Beaches in Terengganu, including Rantau Abang here, used to see up to 10,000 leatherback turtle landings in the 1950s.

Rantau Abang was a lively place back then, crowded with visitors, but this declined when fewer than 50 turtle landings were sighted during the early 1990s.

This prompted Universiti Malay­sia Terengganu to set up a Turtle Research Unit (Seatru) in 1993, with a station at Chagar Hutang on Pulau Redang.

Seatru chief researcher Assoc Prof Dr Juanita Joseph said Pulau Redang recorded less than 500 nests, with about 100 turtles landing, when the project started.

“We bought green and hawksbill turtles’ eggs from licensed turtle egg collectors at RM120 per nest,” she said. The eggs were for incubation.

In 2005, the state government declared the Chagar Hutang, Mak Simpan and Mak Kepit beaches on Pulau Redang as turtle sanctuaries.

Collecting turtle eggs for sale was abolished, allowing all the eggs collected on the island to be incubated.

“Nesting data showed turtle landings on Pulau Redang had increased in 2010, 17 years after the research started,” said Dr Juanita.

“More exhilarating was that 1,000 turtle nests were recorded at Chagar Hutang for the first time, and this became 1,500 nests last year,” she said. — Bernama

Turtles Get A Lifeline In Terengganu
Kamaliza Kamaruddin Bernama 5 Mar 17;

DUNGUN, March 5 (Bernama) -- Resort beaches in Terengganu including Rantau Abang here used to record up to 10,000 leatherback turtle landings in the 1950s.

At that time Rantau Abang was very lively and crowded with thousands of visitors but this declined when often less than 50 turtle landings were sighted in the early 1990s.

This prompted Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) to set up its Turtle Research Unit (SEATRU) in 1993 with a station at Chagar Hutang, Pulau Redang.

SEATRU chief researcher, associate professor Dr Juanita Joseph said Pulau Redang recorded less than 500 nests with about 100 turtles landing when the project started.

"We bought green and hawksbill turtles' eggs from licensed turtle egg collectors at RM120 per nest (to incubate them)," she said.

In 2005, the state government declared Chagar Hutang, Mak Simpan and Mak Kepit beaches on Pulau Redang as turtle sanctuaries.

Collecting turtle eggs for sale was abolished allowing all turtle eggs collected on the island to be incubated.

"Nesting data showed turtle landings on Pulau Redang had increased in 2010, namely, 17 years after the research started," she said when met by Bernama.

"Most exhilaratingly, 1,000 turtle nests were recorded at Chagar Hutang for the first time, and 1,500 nests last year," she said.

In the more than two decades the research was conducted, UMT had protected more than 13,000 turtle nests and successfully released a million turtle hatchlings, she added.


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Malaysia: Ecologists laud David Attenborough's letter to Sabah Chief Minister

MEI MEI CHU The Star 5 Mar 17;

PETALING JAYA: Ecologists in Malaysia have lauded Sir David Attenborough's (pic) letter to Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman urging the state to rethink the controversial Sukau Bridge, in an effort to save what's left of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary River.

According to The Guardian, Attenborough and BBC wildlife presenter Steve Backshall have joined local conservationists in lobbying for the RM223mil bridge to be scrapped.

"I have had many encounters with the magnificent and unique species with which your state is blessed …

"If this construction is allowed to go ahead, I am left in no doubt that the bridge will have significant negative effects on the region's wildlife, Kinabatangan's thriving tourism industry, and on the image of Sabah as a whole," Attenborough said in his letter to Musa.

Attenborough is loved for his wildlife documentaries and conservation work, but he rarely interferes with a country's domestic policy – which makes his letter all the more important, local conservationists say.

"He is known worldwide and respected. His voice carries weight and is important in critical issues like this," said Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, principal investigator of the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants.

"In Kinabatangan, you have orangutan, elephants, hornbills, and until recently, rhinos. It is surprisingly rich for its level of fragmentation.

"It doesn't make sense to fragment it any further (with the construction of the bridge)," he added.

Attenborough is one of the very few people in the world to have seen Borneo before logging and palm oil plantations took over, said Wong Siew Te, founder of the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

"When Attenborough first visited Kinabatangan River in the 1950s to film the Nature Quest series, Kinabatangan was covered in rich low land rainforest. Over the years, he returned to do more shows and witnessed the forest's destruction.

"It must have been very frustrating for him to see the forest taken over by oil palm plantations. The Sukau Bridge is the last straw," said Wong.

The Federal Government's road and bridge project will see the construction of a 100m bridge across the Kinabatangan River in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, while a dirt road will also be paved, potentially increasing traffic to the area.

The road aims to create better accessibility between five remote coastal villages and the Sukau township where the nearest hospital is located.

Sukau assemblyman Datuk Saddi Abdul Rahman has said there had been at least 10 deaths amongst villagers as the hospital is two hours away.

"We are concerned about our wildlife but we also cannot ignore the needs of people there," he said in January, adding that the Environmental Impact Assessment study is expected to be approved.

However, conservationists argue that the bridge will further endanger the already threatened wildlife population here and disrupt the migratory routes of the rare Bornean pygmy elephant.

Even State Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Pang Nyuk Ming has asked the state government to re-evaluate the project.

The state cannot ignore the implications of the project and the concerns raised by local and international conservationists, he said in January.

"The bridge is an example of bad development – the type of development a country like Malaysia should avoid at this point," Dr Campos-Arceiz said, adding that the new road would directly affect the pygmy elephants' home range.

"The road can increase human-elephant conflict, with elephants entering the roads and plantations along it," he said.

There are also concerns that the new road will create access for illegal poaching, logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, and more oil palm plantations.

Despite objections from local non-governmental organisations such as the Sime Darby Foundation, preliminary construction work for the bridge has reportedly begun.

Which is why Dr Campos-Arceiz and Wong hope that the Sabah chief minister will listen to Attenborough's letter and take action.

"This letter has been picked up by international media," Wong said, adding that he hoped the spotlight will pressure Sabah into halting the project.

"A lot of good work and effort have been put into conserving the wildlife and local community.

"This Sukau bridge will hurt everything we've achieved in the past 20 years; all the good will be gone," he added.

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Polluted environments kill 1.7 million children a year: WHO

Reuters 5 Mar 17;

A quarter of all global deaths of children under five are due to unhealthy or polluted environments including dirty water and air, second-hand smoke and a lack or adequate hygiene, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Such unsanitary and polluted environments can lead to fatal cases of diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia, the WHO said in a report, and kill 1.7 million children a year.

"A polluted environment is a deadly one -– particularly for young children," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a statement. "Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water."

In the report -- "Inheriting a sustainable world: Atlas on children's health and the environment" -- the WHO said harmful exposure can start in the womb, and then continue if infants and toddlers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke.

This increases their childhood risk of pneumonia as well as their lifelong risk of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Air pollution also increases the lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, the report said.

The report also noted that in households without access to safe water and sanitation, or that are polluted with smoke from unclean fuels such as coal or dung for cooking and heating, children are at higher risk of diarrhea and pneumonia.

Children are also exposed to harmful chemicals through food, water, air and products around them, it said.

Maria Neira, a WHO expert on public health, said this was a heavy toll, both in terms of deaths and long-term illness and disease rates. She urged governments to do more to make all places safe for children.

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"Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits," she said.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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