Best of our wild blogs: 11-12 Mar 17

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wild shores of singapore

Clams and clear water at Kranji
wild shores of singapore

Huge abandoned net at Kranji (10 Mar 2017)
Project Driftnet Singapore

Singapore Bird Report- February 2017
Singapore Bird Group

About Butterflies - Talk at Seletar Country Club
Butterflies of Singapore

Night Walk At Bidadari Cemetery (10 Mar 2017)
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Neo Mei Lin

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How Singapore’s water conservation message got diluted by recent successes

SIAU MING EN Today Online 11 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — When Singapore decided to shift its immigration and Customs checkpoint away from the old Tanjong Pagar railway station in 1998, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told a rally in Johor Baru that their country’s “good nature” should not be taken for granted by others.

“Cut, cut, cut,” chanted the crowd, urging their government to cut off Johor’s water supply to Singapore.

The relocation of the checkpoint was one of several sticky points that were part of quid pro quo negotiations during the Asian Financial Crisis, when Singapore sought future water supplies in return for financial aid to Malaysia. This was not the first time Singapore’s northern neighbour had threatened to stop supplying water.

That very same year, a team from the national water agency PUB was sent to the United States to study their water-reclamation projects, hoping to revive an earlier failed experiment with water membrane technology. Within a decade, Singapore launched NEWater in 2002 and built its first desalination plant in Tuas in 2005.

The development of the “four national taps” strategy in the early 2000s, consisting of local water catchments, water from Johor Baru, NEWater and desalinated water, marked a big turning point: Singapore had turned its vulnerability into strength and became recognised internationally for its water resource management capabilities. The Republic can, if necessary, become completely self-sufficient after 2061, when the 1962 Water Agreement with Malaysia would expire — a position previously espoused by government leaders over the years.

However, it was during the same time that the message of water as “a strategic issue and a matter of national security” — as several Cabinet ministers took pains to stress during the recent Budget and Committee of Supply debates — gradually became lost on Singaporeans, experts told TODAY.

While the recently announced 30 per cent hike in water fee was a necessary “shock treatment”, the authorities would not have to resort to it if the messaging had been consistent and water priced correctly all these years, they argued.

“We should have emphasised that while we gained greater water security as a result of NEWater and desalination, that security comes with a price - higher water prices,” observed Associate Professor Donald Low, a behavioural economist from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP). He pointed out that Singaporeans’ attitudes shifted after the NEWater breakthrough. Prior to that, it was constantly drummed into people’s heads that Singapore is very dependent on the water supplied by Malaysia.

“So when we make a big show and tell of … how we can export our water capabilities, (people think) it must be the case that we have solved our water vulnerability, that we have turned this vulnerability into a source of economic advantage,” he added.

World-renowned water expert Asit Biswas, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at LKYSPP, went so far as to say that Singapore has “become very complacent about water”.

He noted that since Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew retired from politics in 2011, “water has not received the same priority in the political process”.

Prof Biswas said “it’s one thing to say it’s a national security issue”, but another thing “to follow it up in the public messaging on why it is a national security issue”. He recalled how the late Mr Lee had famously declared at a water event in 2008 that “every other policy has to bend at the knees for our water survival”.

Prof Biswas said: “I don’t think after his departure, we have had the same sense of urgency ... People are taking water for granted. Everyone is saying we are one of the best in the world (at water management).”

The water tariff hike — first announced during the Budget last month — was the first in 17 years. It sparked a huge public discourse, prompting Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing to acknowledge: “The fact that we have such an intense discussion reflects that we have left this issue off our national psyche for too long.”


For so long, water has been an issue intertwined with Singapore’s history, even before independence.

When the Japanese forces captured Bukit Timah Hill in 1942 during World War II, they promptly cut off Singapore’s water supply — a strategic move that contributed to the surrender of the British. Some 20 years later, Singapore faced one of its worst droughts ever, and a water-rationing exercise was conducted for 10 months.

On the very day that Singapore achieved independence, on Aug 9, 1965, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman told the British High Commissioner in Malaya: “If Singapore’s foreign policy is prejudicial to Malaysia’s interests, we could always bring pressure to bear on them by threatening to turn off the water in Johor.”

Since then, water was the leverage Malaysia had over Singapore, and the Republic had been reminded of it whenever bilateral relations hit a rough patch.

There are two water agreements between Singapore and Malaysia. The first was inked in 1961 and expired in 2011. The second, signed in 1962, will lapse in 2061. The agreements were guaranteed by the 1965 Separation Agreement, which was registered at the United Nations. This means that any breaches in the water agreements would undermine Singapore’s sovereignty.

In the two decades or so after Independence, Singapore focused its attention on water resource and conservation efforts, which sought to drive home the message about the country’s vulnerability. PUB held its inaugural water conservation campaign in 1971, and a year later, it published the Water Master Plan — Singapore’s first long-term blueprint for water resource development. The authorities also started exploring the feasibility of various water sources: In 1974, for example, Singapore built its first experimental water reclamation plant. But the pilot did not work out because the technology then was too expensive and unreliable.

In the meantime, Singapore faced threats from Malaysia about cutting off the supply of water from Johor, including in 1986 when then-Israeli president Chaim Herzog made a state visit to Singapore, which was met with protests in Malaysia.

During the Asian Financial Crisis, the two countries held talks over the cost of buying water from Malaysia, and these discussions were tied to a financial recovery package. However, negotiations stalled. In 2002, the talks collapsed, prompting the threats again.

At the turn of the millennium, Singapore began making headway in developing its water resource capabilities. After PUB’s study trip to the United States, Singapore conducted various tests at a water reclamation plant in Bedok. In 2000, it successfully reclaimed water. Two years later, NEWater was officially launched, and soon after, Singapore was exporting its water purification technologies around the world.

A deep tunnel sewerage system was also built to channel used water to a centralised water reclamation plant, and Singapore became fully sewered. “Technically, we can recycle every drop indefinitely. Unless you drink water in Singapore and then catch a flight out, we can take it back, clean it and use it for industry. So with the breakthrough, I tell you, great relief,” then-Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said.


Singapore’s water story is a classic case of it being a victim of success. “We have assumed that everything is hunky-dory, we don’t have a problem, we have solved our water problem for the next 50 to 100 years,” said Prof Biswas.

Looking back, everyone could have been wiser in making sure Singaporeans did not lose sight of its vulnerabilty, he added. Nevertheless, there was a lack of public messaging, he said.

When water levels at Linggiu Reservoir in Johor fell to historic lows in 2015 and last year, government leaders — including then-Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan — took the opportunity to remind Singaporeans of the scarcity of water. Nevertheless, Prof Biswas felt the Government could have gone further, to underscore Singapore’s vulnerability, he said.

Dr Cecilia Tortajada, a senior research fellow at the LKYSPP Institute of Water Policy, added: “But what was missing was the connection. That 50 per cent of our water still comes from outside, PUB has been highly efficient — everything they have been able to do, they have done it — and so it’s now time for the population to (play an) active part — that is to use less (water).”

The Government could have also taken the opportunity to educate Singaporeans about the cost of producing water when it last raised water prices in 2000, Prof Biswas said.

“Singaporeans are not paying for all the costs of water and the Government is not telling them,” he said.

Both Prof Biswas and Assoc Prof Low cited how the Government’s approach to water contrasted with what it does when it comes to other limited resources such as electricity and roads. Unlike water, Singaporeans have grown to accept the price fluctuations for electricity, Assoc Prof Low pointed out.

“People have gotten used to ... the idea that the price of electricity is going to be determined by supply and demand factors,” he said. “With water, for a variety of reasons, that message either hasn’t sunk in or people don’t even realise that Singapore is a price taker.”

Apart from the fact that the electricity market has been privatised, Assoc Prof Low attributed the situation primarily to how the authorities may have unintentionally “created a false sense of security around water”.

There is also a gap between what Singaporeans know about the scarcity of water and actually putting that knowledge into action to conserve water, he noted.

Agreeing, Dr Tortajada noted that there is an abundance of public information about the scarcity of water. Yet, Singaporeans had difficulty linking it to the latest hike in water prices. “(The increase) should not have been a surprise to Singaporeans,” she said.

She noted that during dry spells in recent years, PUB came out to reassure Singaporeans that the water supply will not be affected. “Their statements were, ‘the drought is very serious, but don’t worry, we’re in charge’,” she said, adding that the agency could have been bolder in getting Singaporeans to play their part. “(But) the message should have been, ‘the drought is very serious, we’re in charge and you have to use less’. The communication should have made people aware that they are also responsible.”

Still, some experts noted that the Government faced a dilemma which is common in public communications. “On one hand, you need to shake the audience from their apathy in order to get them to do something, on the other hand, you also do not want to cause panic,” said Dr Tracy Loh, a senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Department of Communications and New Media. In the case of water, the Government has to assure Singaporeans that there is an adequate supply of water, and at the same time, get them to conserve water.

And as far as national campaigns are concerned, PUB’s save water campaigns in recent years and its Water Wally mascot - which made its debut in 2005 - never quite caught on domestically, the experts pointed out.

Dr Loh said: “The mascot and campaign never achieved the publicity and reach of (earlier) campaigns such as the courtesy campaign or the productivity campaign.”

A Water Wally television commercial - featuring a controversial scene where the mascot peeped at a child showering - and the “Shower Dance” drew a negative reception, Dr Loh noted. “All these issues makes it hard for the public to take the message seriously,” she said.

The experts reiterated that the breakthrough in NEWater technology was a key reason behind the shift in public attitudes. Since the early 2000s, the implicit message has been that Singapore has solved its water security, they said.

Since Singapore’s independence, water has been framed as a scarce resource, and a matter of survival and national security, said Associate Professor Shirley Ho from Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. This was reinforced by images of survival: People queuing for water during rationing exercises, for instance. But the success with NEWater came along, and the message became diluted, she said.


While there has been much discussion about the quantum of the latest round of water tariff hike, some experts felt that the move was, in itself, a way to focus the public’s minds on the issue and drive home the water conservation message.

The 30-per-cent quantum was a “short, sharp, shock treatment” to remind Singaporeans of the importance of water and its scarcity, said Associate Professor Toh Mun Heng from NUS Business School. “The fact that it has aroused much attention and discussion is an indication of the success of the ‘campaign’,” added Assoc Prof Toh, an expert on strategy and policy.

At the core, water pricing is the most effective way to regulate demand, LKYSPP water policy expert Eduardo Araral said. “The Government can cry out loud but it will have little effect if the price of water is very low and does not reflect its scarcity value,” he added.

Turning to other countries, Prof Biswas noted that Sao Paulo, Brazil has been facing its most serious drought in the last 40 years. Water is provided for by Sabesp, a water and waste management company owned by the state. Prof Biswas said that while the firm made strides in improving its water efficiency processes, they also reached out to the public, communicated the problem and got them to reduce their consumption. The company also provided discounts to incentivise people to use less water. In a year, the city reduced its per capita water consumption from 146 litres per day to 120 litres per day.

Similarly, Spanish cities Barcelona and Zaragoza also managed to drastically reduce their per capita water consumption by increasing water tariffs, education and managing demand. Their authorities are also “telling their people they have a problem every day, and the people feel the problem”, said Prof Biswas.

Apart from households, Assoc Prof Araral stressed the need to educate other users, which may be less sensitive to higher water tariffs. “They have to take personal responsibility for reducing consumption regardless of the price. There has to be an ethos of conservation and this takes time to develop. The schools would have to reinforce this message regularly,” he added.

Going forward, it cannot be business as usual and the public messaging has to change, the experts said. Singaporeans need to know that even with new technologies, water will remain a scarce resource, said Assoc Prof Ho.

Dr Loh felt that logic alone is insufficient and future campaigns have to incorporate “emotional elements to tug at the heartstrings” in order to change attitudes towards water. “The problem is that people know about the issue at some fundamental level but they are not realising (its) importance... Unfortunately, just by stressing the facts alone or knowing about water scarcity on the intellectual level is insufficient,” she added.


•PUB launched its first national water conservation campaign, adopting the slogan “Water is Precious”
•Community activities showed people the dos and don’ts of using water and the campaign was publicised in newspapers, and on radio and television. A television cartoon series featuring mascot Bobo the Water-Saving Elephant was also created.
•Then-PUB chairman Lim Kim San, who was also Education Minister, stressed that “to save water only when there is a drought is not good enough for us in Singapore. Saving water must become a daily habit with us”

•A month-long “Let’s Not Waste Precious Water” campaign was launched on top of water conservation talks in schools
•A Water Conservation Unit was formed to visit large industrial water users and suggest how they can reduce water consumption
•The public was educated on what to do in a water crisis while a water conservation course was introduced at secondary level to help students understand Singapore’s water challenges

•Public appeals to cut down unnecessary water use were made after a long dry period. Then-Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Finance George Yeo reminded people that water is a “matter of life and death”.
•Water Conservation Tax was introduced to discourage the excessive use of water and revised in 1997.
•A six-day campaign involving a water rationing exercise was conducted with 30,000 households.

•During the 2002 National Day Parade, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, ministers and participants toasted with NEWater to show that it was safe to drink. NEWater Visitor Centre was opened to provide public education on the technology, while PUB embarked on a publicity campaign including mobile exhibitions, briefings, and public talks
•Campaign on Singapore’s water supply strategy of having four “National Taps”
•Water Wally, a blue water droplet, was introduced as PUB’s mascot in 2005
•10 litre Challenge to encourage every individual to reduce daily water consumption by that amount

•Outreach on social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, with PUB making regular updates to engage online users
•Water campaigns also targeted foreign workers to participate in water conservation efforts. Roadshows were held at areas they frequented while brochures for them were printed in Tamil, Chinese, Thai and Burmese. Educational materials in Bahasa Indonesia, Tamil and Burmese were also shared with training providers for maid agencies

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Malaysia: 12,000ha of Kelantan's permanent forest reserves encroached since 1970s

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 10 Mar 17;

KOTA BARU: More than 12,000 hectares of permanent forest reserves in Kelantan especially in the remote areas, have been encroached by illegal logging syndicates resulting to losses of nearly RM50 million.

Kelantan Forestry Department director Datuk Zahari Ibrahim said the activities were detected since 1970s and had been on-going until now.

"The encroaching into the forest reserves is still alarming but under control, as only 12,000 of the 623,849 hectares had been encroached by these syndicates.

"However, the state government has suffered huge loss of about RM50 million since 40 years ago," he told reporters after attending a dinner organised by Kelantan Timber Association here last night.

The dinner was held in conjunction with the association's 40th anniversary. Also present were state Industry, Trade, Unity and Entrepreneurship Development committee chairman Datuk Anuar Tan Abdullah and the association's chairman Lim Boon kiat.

Zahari said the 12,000 hectares covered 25 of the 30 reserve forests in Kelantan and they included areas in Gua Musang, Tanah Merah and Machang.

"This syndicates have been co-operating with locals and even loggers to do the work. Their modus operandi among others include selling some of the land to outsiders for a huge profit." he said.

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Indonesia: Study reveals Bengkulu`s mangrove forests store 3,652 tons of carbon

Antara 10 Mar 17;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - A study on mangrove forests spanning 214 hectares in Bengkulu revealed that the area was able to absorb and store 3,652 tons of carbon, according to Gunggung Senoaji, an academician of the Bengkulu University.

"Mangrove forests along the shoreline of Bengkulu play a major role in mitigating global warming, as they are able to store 18.53 tons of carbon per hectare," Senoaji remarked here on Friday.

According to the academician, the amount of carbon stored in mangrove forests is determined by calculating the total biomass of the trees by taking into account the value of biomass expansion factors, carbon fraction, and the wood density.

He said the results of the analysis indicated that the vast spread of mangrove ecosystems in the coastal city of Bengkulu reached approximately 214 hectares.

Mangrove forests cover an area of 116.24 hectares in the Pantai Panjang Natural Tourism Park, while 98.38 hectares are present in the forest area.

"Mangrove ecosystems outside the forest area are highly prone to conversion, hence they need to be designated as protected areas," he emphasized.

Senoaji said the results of the study conducted jointly by the agricultural faculty of the University of Bengkulu can shed light on the vital functions of mangrove ecosystems in mitigating climate change due to global warming.

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Indonesia: National park fights back against illegal plantations

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 11 Mar 17;

Thousands of hectares of forests in Mount Leuser National Park in North Sumatra and Aceh are reported to have been illegally encroached upon and converted into widespread plantations of oil palms, rubber trees, cacao trees and coffee plants.

To restore the natural functions of the protected forests, the park management office is planning to curb the rampant spread of the illegal plantations.

A joint team of the park’s officials and security apparatus had reconverted some 75 hectares of plantation in Sei Lepan district, Langkat regency, North Sumatra last month, cutting down the commercial vegetation and replanting indigenous flora. In the near future, the same measure would also be taken on another 80 hectares that had been turned into plantations in Southeast Aceh regency, said Joko Iswanto, the spokesman of the Mount Leuser National Park office.

The reconversions are aimed at restoring the natural functions of the whole area within the national park where the officials would clear the plantations and replant them with forests trees.

Joko expressed regret that the conversions had been going on in the area for years, but so far no measures had been taken to restore its function as a protected forest. More than 2,000 hectares within the National Park had been converted into plantations, which were mostly spread throughout Langkat, North Sumatra and Southeast Aceh.

The forest conversions were mostly committed by local people who were supported by payments from outside investors.

“Most of the investors come from Medan,” Joko said.

Joko also said that the national park had been intensively conducting preventive measures using persuasion to stop local people from destroying the protected forests. Thanks to the measures, 18 encroachers had voluntarily handed over their illegal plantations to be restored back into protected forest.

He said various kinds of vegetation had been replanted in the area after hundreds of two- to five-year-old palm trees were all cut down.

Very recently, seven non-governmental organizations grouped under the Mount Leuser National Park rescue coalition asked President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to save the park from rampant encroachments.

Panut Hadisiswoyo of the coalition said the encroachments were massive in the national park, illegally converting the forests into plantations and housing for local people.

He said the total area of the park was 838,872 hectares, but it continued to decrease because of the encroachments, especially in Langkat regency, North Sumatra.

“The area in Langkat is the worst encroached,” Panut said.

The most massive conversions occurred in the Barak Induk area in Sei Lepan and in Lapangan Tembak in Besitang district in Langkat. He claimed that some oil palm plantations in these areas were under the control of some companies.

“Some palm oil companies have been operating in the national park area for years. Surprisingly, no one has the guts to get rid of them,” he said.

The park had been listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list in 2011 following rampant encroachments along with two other national parks in Sumatra: Kerinci Seblat National Park in West Sumatra, Jambi, Bengkulu and South Sumatra, and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Lampung and Bengkulu provinces. The three national parks were declared by UNESCO to be World Heritage Sites in 2004.

According to UNESCO, Sumatran tropical rainforests are home to 10,000 plant, 201 mammal and 580 bird species. They also serve as a habitat for mammals that needed a large range for roaming, such as Sumatran tigers, orangutans, elephants and rhinos.

Punut said that if by 2018 the encroachments could not be settled, the Mount Leuser National Park most likely could be excluded from UNESCO’s list of world’s heritage sites.

“If that is the case it will be a bad record for Indonesia as it is not capable of preserving the area already declared as a part of the world’s heritage,” he added.

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Indonesia: British-owned cruise ship wrecks one of Indonesia’s best coral reefs

Ship ran aground at Raja Ampat, one of the country’s most popular dive sites that has been likened to an underwater Amazon, reports Mongabay
Basten Gokkon for Mongabay, part of the Guardian Environment Network
The Guardian 10 Mar 17;

One of the main coral reefs at Raja Ampat, an Indonesian island chain home to perhaps the world’s richest marine biodiversity, was severely damaged last week when a Bahamian-flagged cruise ship smashed into it at low tide, according to an official report.

The 90-meter Caledonian Sky, owned by tour operator Noble Caledonia, ran aground in an uncharted shoal in West Papua province after completing a bird-watching trip on Waigeo Island on 4 March.

The British-owned company described the incident as “unfortunate” and said it was “cooperating fully with the relevant authorities”. Damage to the vessel was minimal and it has already set sail after being questioned by investigators.

An official evaluation team found that the ship had been caught in low tide despite being equipped with GPS and radar instruments, according to team member Ricardo Tapilatu, head of the Research Center for Pacific Marine Resources at the University of Papua.

“A tugboat from Sorong city was deployed to help refloat the cruise ship, which is something that shouldn’t have happened because it damaged the reef even worse,” Tapilatu said. “They should’ve waited for high tide” to refloat the vessel.

The 4,290-tonne Caledonian Sky, which was carrying 102 passengers and 79 crew on a 16-night journey from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines, damaged approximately 1,600 square meters of coral at a diving site known as Crossover Reef.

The incident resulted in the destruction of the ecosystem’s structural habitat and the reduction or loss of diversity of eight coral genera, including acropora, porites, montipora and stylophora.

“This is what we found during our investigation into the site,” Tapilatu said. “We are currently finishing the report and will submit our recommendations to the district office next week.”

Local homestay operator Stay Raja Ampat posted on Facebook: “How can this happen? Was a 12-year-old at the wheel? Anchor damage from ships like these is bad enough, but actually grounding a ship on a reef takes it to a whole new level.”

Due to Raja Ampat’s special biodiversity and its status as one of the world’s most popular dive sites, as well as the fact that the damage occurred in a national park, the evaluation team will recommend the company pay compensation of $800-$1,200 (£650-£985) per square meter, for a total of $1.28m-$1.92m, according to Tapilatu. The standard rate is $200-$400 per square meter.

“If the ship’s owner disagrees with the claim, then typically the government will take it to court,” Tapilatu said. If the company and government can reach an agreement, it will likely take a year or two for the district administration to receive the cash.

Tapilatu said the money would be used to revive the reef, a process he estimated could take a decade; to set more mooring buoys across the area to prevent ships from sailing into shallow zones; and to map out sailing tracks.

“The government has had talks about compensation with the ship company, and I’m optimistic that this won’t go to court. Unfortunately, there will not be any moves for coral revival until we get the money.”

Andi Rusandi, director for conservation and marine biodiversity at the Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said local conservation and revival efforts were within the local government’s authority, but he said he would follow the situation.

In its statement, Noble Caledonia said it was “firmly committed to protection of the environment, which is why it is imperative that the reasons for it are fully investigated, understood and any lessons learned incorporated in operating procedures.”

Ministry to check damage to Raja Ampat coral reefs
Jakarta Post 14 Mar 17;

A team from the Environment and Forestry Ministry is set to examine the damage caused to coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Papua, when a UK cruise ship, the MV Caledonian Sky, ran aground in shallow waters in the area.

“Our team will dive to check the level of the damage,” said Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya as quoted by at the State Palace in Jakarta on Monday. The minister said she could not yet confirm how many square meters of the coral reefs had been damaged by the cruise ship.

Siti said the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Ministry would coordinate the handling of the incident, in which the Environment and Forestry Ministry would specifically handle the damaged coral reefs and prepare measures to bring the environmental destruction case to justice.

(Read also: Cruise ship smashes into coral in Raja Ampat)

As there was still no clear data on the extent of the damage to the coral reefs, Siti said, the ministry did not yet know how large a fine it would seek from the MV Caledonian Sky’s owner.

“I do not yet known exactly. I will let you know if there is progress [in the investigation]. Actually, it’s not only about the extent of the damaged coral reefs. We have to truly consider the value of its natural richness,” said Siti.

The Caledonian Sky passed through Raja Ampat waters on March 4 to bring 102 tourists on board to enjoy birdwatching on Waigeo. The ship became trapped in shallow waters. A rescue boat attempted to pull the ship out of the waters when it was not yet in high tide, causing damage to the coral reefs in the area. (dis/ebf)

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