Best of our wild blogs: 20 Mar 17

25 Mar (Sat): Talk on "Secret Shores of Singapore" by Ria Tan
wild shores of singapore

A Jelly Good Time with the Naked Hermit Crabs!
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus sp.) @ Tanah Merah
Monday Morgue

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Pasir Ris residents 'cry fowl' after AVA culling

They are upset about not being consulted and say chickens added to kampung atmosphere of area
Danson Cheong, Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Mar 17;

Another fowl culling has ruffled feathers. This time it is the killing of free-roaming chickens in the Sungei Api Api area in Pasir Ris.

It comes barely a month after the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) took similar action in Sin Ming estate in Thomson, sparking a heated public debate.

Residents of the private estate beside Sungei Api Api said they used to see flocks of 10 birds or more until around two months ago, when the culling began. Now, only scattered groups of two to three birds remain, said lawyer Chia Boon Teck.

"There used to be more than 100 birds. Residents now wake up to a lifeless Sungei Api Api," said the 53-year-old, who lives in a semi-detached house in Riverina View, just beside the river.

Mr Chia and other residents in the area are angry that the AVA had culled the chickens without informing or discussing it with them.

They said the birds are the native red junglefowl, because they have grey legs - one of the distinct characteristics of this bird, which is an endangered species in Singapore.

The Straits Times saw about 20 of these birds during a visit to the estate last Thursday.

The AVA, however, said it was "highly unlikely" the birds are the red junglefowl, usually found on Pulau Ubin and in the western catchment area near Lim Chu Kang.

In January, the AVA culled 24 free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming after it got 20 complaints about noise, and concerns over avian flu. The move sparked a public outcry that culminated in Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon assuring MPs in Parliament that it was done only as a last resort.

In the case of Pasir Ris, an AVA spokesman said it has been receiving feedback about the "growing free-roaming chicken population" since January last year. She also said if these feathered flocks were left unchecked, they could pose a threat to public health in the event that bird flu is brought here by migratory birds.The AVA declined to disclose how many complaints were received and chickens killed.

Mr Chia, who is vice-chairman of the neighbourhood committee, said it was "regrettable" that the AVA did not work with them to look into the complaints.

Other residents, like account director Faisal Salim, 49, are dismayed, saying that without the chickens, the "kampung atmosphere" of the estate is gone.

"You can't get the flora, fauna and fowls of this place in many estates in Singapore," said Mr Faisal, who has lived in the area for 10 years.

Housewife Fiona Oliveiro, 46, said her maid had seen men catching the birds with nets in late January. The Straits Times had also spotted bird control experts catching the wild chickens last month.

The birds crow in the morning, but residents have learnt to live with it, Ms Oliveiro said.

Retiree Ng Cher Peng said some people find the birds an annoyance when they fly into their gardens and roost there. But they do not return when chased away, he added.

"If the AVA wants to cull, it should cull the mynahs and pigeons, which are more of a nuisance," said the 62-year-old.

Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC and an animal welfare advocate, said the AVA needs to share details on how it plans to manage free-roaming chickens.

"The population of these birds will control itself as long as there is no external food source. The key is to not cull the chickens, but to tell residents not to feed them," he said.

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Eco-friendly guidelines issued for Qingming Festival

Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 19 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: In the lead-up to Qingming Festival on Apr 4, some Taoist and Buddhist institutions have issued new guidelines on the burning of offerings for safety and environmental reasons.

Also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, Qingming Festival is a time for Buddhist and Taoist devotees to pay respects to their ancestors - usually done by offering food and incense and the burning of paper clothes in bags or boxes.

One such institution to have issued new guidelines is the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, which is banning the burning of large paper box offerings from this year onwards.

"We started publicising the message a year ago and I’m sure our devotees and public are all very understanding about this," said Venerable Chuan Sheng from the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery. "We’re very encouraged by their response that we’re all working towards more eco-friendly policies, which will benefit all of us."

Three years ago, the monastery also installed an eco-burner with an environmentally friendly ash filtration system. This was aimed at reducing the amount of ash produced during peak periods, such as Qingming Festival and the seventh lunar month, when the number of visitors can range from 40,000 to 60,000 daily.

Only staff from the monastery are allowed to conduct the burning of offerings.

Since its introduction, the eco-burner has "significantly mitigated" the impact of burning, especially during peak periods, according to a monastery spokesperson. "(This) has also greatly reduced the amount of feedback we received from those staying in the vicinity."

"There has also been a lot of understanding and support in the monastery’s move to stop the burning of joss paper boxes and we hope to continue to do our part to protect the environment by introducing more environmentally friendly initiatives," the spokesperson added.

Another institution that is seeking to adopt greener guidelines is the Singapore Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng columbarium.

Only its staff members are allowed to burn joss paper offerings and incense sticks. Visitors have to remove the plastic covers and materials from their offerings before handing them over for burning - a policy which has been in place for around 10 years.

From next year onwards, the columbarium also plans to ban the burning of paper box offerings during peak periods.

"We don’t encourage people to burn such big items like big (paper) boxes because it always creates a lot of air pollution and flame (and) dark smoke," said the president of Singapore Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng, Sum Onn Wah.

Mr Sum said that such smoke was caused by the burning of the contents inside the boxes, such as real clothes and shoes belonging to the deceased relatives of visitors.

He added that the large fires and smoke created by the burning have even prompted residents from the nearby Braddell Heights estate to call the fire services on at least one occasion, concerned that there may have been a fire.


One expert says that such measures are not just better for the environment, but also for one's health.

Duke-NUS Medical School clinical sciences professor Koh Woon Puay co-led a study in 2014 which found that people who used incense at home for at least 20 years had an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease in the follow-up period, compared to people who did not use incense.

"Going by the principle that the smoke from the burning of incense and other offerings may contain harmful chemicals, I think any measures to reduce the public’s exposure to it, especially indoors, would be helpful at the population level," said Prof Koh.

"Our research has shown that the risk is specifically increased in people with very long-term exposure to the indoor use of incense, most of the time in their own home, and for 20 years or more," she said.

"So it is really the consistent, daily long-term exposure that creates more harm than the once-in-a-while, episodic exposure to burning, say when you visit the temple or places where burning occurs," she added.

Prof Koh also advised the reduction of exposure to burning for vulnerable populations, such as the young and elderly suffering from chronic lung disease.

With these measures in place, it's hoped that more devotees will consider other offerings in place of paper box offerings.

"From a Buddhist perspective, it is more of the mindset that matters in terms of such offerings," said Venerable Chuan Sheng.

"It does not matter very much how big or the quantity of the offering, but as long as the mindset is pure, sincere and full of gratitude and filial piety towards ancestors, that is much more important. So we encourage very much the offering of simple items like flowers, fruits, to encourage the practice of the virtue of generosity."

- CNA/nc

Temple bans burning of bulky offerings
Yuen Sin, The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Mar 17;

A long-simmering conflict between preserving an age-old tradition during the Qing Ming Festival and showing consideration for the environment has come to a head.

The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in Bright Hill Road, the largest Mahayana Buddhist temple in Singapore, will impose a ban on the burning of bulky paper boxes as offerings to the dead during this year's festival, which falls on April 4.

Known as "treasure chests", such boxes contain items such as paper clothes and watches, common paper offerings representing items that had given devotees' relatives pleasure and comfort in life.

Buddhists and Taoists customarily burn incense paper items to show filial piety to their ancestors during Qing Ming. Chinese of other faiths may also mark the occasion. The 2010 census recorded more than a million Buddhists in Singapore and over 330,000 Taoists.

A Kong Meng San spokesman said such boxes, which typically measure about 55cm in length and 40cm in height, will be banned as the cardboard used to make the boxes "leads to higher amounts of ash and smoke emitted during burning". While the burning of other paper offerings in the monastery's burners is still allowed, the temple will not rule out the possibility of extending the ban to other items.

Ash created from the burning of incense paper by devotees has long been a bone of contention with the temple's neighbours. In 2012, residents of two private estates formed a committee to get the temple to contain the ash from its burners that lands on their properties. The temple redoubled cleaning efforts and installed burners that were more environmentally friendly in 2014. But out of concern for the environment, it decided to introduce the ban this year . It started sending out word on the ban on social and mass media platforms about a year ago. The temple expects daily weekend crowds of 40,000 to 60,000 during the Qing Ming period, which lasts for about a month from mid-March.

Two other temples in Sengkang, the Puat Jit Buddhist Temple and Nanyang Thong Hong Siang Tng Temple, also said they would discourage visitors from burning bulky paper offerings from this year.

At the Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng columbarium in Bishan, pre-recorded messages will be played over loud hailers to urge visitors to avoid burning bulky items.

Peck San Theng's general manager, Mr Liu Khee Sang, 62, said items such as paper cars or bungalows can be 2m or 3m wide and are burnt in 10m-tall urns. As a safety measure, only its staff are allowed to burn the offerings and joss sticks, and they will stop accepting big items from next year.

Worshippers like housewife Tay Cheng Toh, 62, welcomed the move to be more environmentally friendly. "We don't want to be a nuisance to other residents," she said.

But others said the move dilutes a valued tradition. "Imposing a ban is like asking people not to give out red packets during Chinese New Year," said copywriter Cindy Tan, 60, who will burn offerings at the San Qing Gong temple in Bedok.

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Indonesia: Discovery of illegally logged timber shows rampant illegal logging practices continue in Jambi

Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post 19 Mar 17;

Members of the Garuda Putih Military Resort Command in Jambi seized more than a hundred cubic meters of illegally logged timber in the concession area of a company in Kumpeh Ulu district, Muaro Jambi regency, Jambi province, on Saturday.

“This is not an arrest, but a discovery of evidence,” Military resort commander Col. Refrizal said on Sunday.

The military personnel discovered the logs acting on tips from the public and the owner of Forest Concession Rights (HPH) over the past month. The information was also forwarded to the Jambi Forestry Agency and the Jambi Police.

Refrizal said there were around 1,000 hectares of land opened up under the HPH scheme, but up to now, people continued to encroach on the forest.

“We seized 120 to 150 cubic meters of timber and rengas [Gluta Renghas]. However, we have no suspects for this case,” he added.

The Jambi Forestry Agency’s forest protection division head Ahmad Bestari said the province was working to crack down on illegal logging. The practices, he said, caused state losses and damaged the environment.

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Indonesia's Peat Fires Still Blaze, But Not As Much As They Used To

Anthony Kuhn NPR 19 Mar 17;

"Now our land is burned, our environment neglected," he says, sobbing. "Where will my children and grandchildren go?"

The 48-year-old father of five, who lives just outside the capital of Indonesia's West Kalimantan Province on Borneo, says he doesn't have enough to support his family. He's worried about local companies trying to take the land from him.

The fires can be hard to extinguish. "We're in the bush," Subandi explains. "These are ferns. And the fire burns the dry roots beneath us. During the dry season, the fire can burn three feet or more underground."

On top, the peat is a dry, loose, spongy tangle of roots and leaves. Subandi sticks his hand through the top layer up to his elbow, and pulls up a handful of dirt. It's wetter and more compacted, showing what happens as the decaying vegetation sinks and mixes with the water below.

It's been just over a year since massive forest fires ravaged the Indonesian island of Borneo, throwing millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere and sickening thousands. Some observers called it the worst environmental disaster of the century so far. Peat fires and deforestation contribute to Indonesia's status as one of the world's top carbon emitters.

Indonesia responded by banning the use of fire in clearing peat lands, and by naming and shaming companies responsible for setting some of the fires. With help from a wetter rainy season, fires last year were down more than 80 percent compared to 2015.

Indonesia is home to half the world's tropical peat lands, and the catastrophe focused unprecedented attention on their importance. Despite being illegal, clearing peat land by fire remains widespread in Indonesia, as it is the cheapest way to clear land for agriculture and industry.

Peat is basically made up of decaying plants underwater. It is one of nature's most effective ways of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it underground, which helps mitigate global warming. But when the peat swamps are drained and burned, they release some 10 times more carbon than forest fires.

Subandi's story illustrates the issues of population pressures on the peat lands, unclear land rights and complicated economic and political issues that result in peat fires.

Subandi says he moved with his parents from the island of Java to Borneo in the early 1970s. Many of today's peat land residents were moved there by the government to ease population pressures on more crowded islands.

When Subandi's family arrived in Kalimantan Province, sun bears, monkeys and wild boars still roamed the intact peat forests. Trees were so big, Subandi says, it took three or four people to wrap their arms around some of them.

Subandi says his family worked hard to make the land arable. They felled trees with axes, saws and machetes and used the timber to build their homes. They dug canals to drain the peat swamps, and then planted the land with corn and rice.

As Subandi's family grew, he built a second house to stake his claim to a plot of communally owned village land. But he says a local Yamaha motorcycle dealership has tried to take some land near his first house, and he is concerned that a palm oil company is about to encroach on land near the second.

He said men from the motorcycle dealership tried to give him money for the land. "They said, 'If you don't take the compensation and move, you will face the consequences,'" he recalls. "We understood what they were implying. We felt threatened."

A representative of a local organization that supports small farmers in West Kalimantan told me that a palm oil firm had claims on about half the land in Subandi's village, but had not started planting there yet. NPR was not able to contact either the palm oil firm or the motorcycle dealership.

The organization representative said the chief of Subandi's village was working as an agent for the palm oil firm, something the chief denies.

"There's just no legal clarity for anyone, and everyone suffers," says Erik Meijaard, founder of the Brunei-based environmental group Borneo Futures.

Legal uncertainty about land ownership "is creating this push for rapid and often unsustainable use of natural resources and land," he says. That includes the use of fire to clear peat.

Many environmental groups blame big palm oil and pulp and paper plantation owners as the worst offenders, but Meijaard says the distinction between big and small players is an artificial one.

"Everyone is trying to make a buck," he says.

Before the 1960s and 1970s, he says, very few Indonesians were living on peat lands. The soil is acidic and not suited to farming. More importantly, he says, most peat is on coastal lowlands, and draining that peat for industry or agriculture is, in the long run, a losing proposition.

Peat naturally sinks and after 30 or 40 years, will disappear. "What you end up with," Meijaard says, "is basically a hollowed-out area where seawater will come in and you end up with an area that's totally unproductive for anything" – a situation all too familiar in Meijaard's native Netherlands.

But as far as Indonesia's government is concerned, moving all inhabitants off of the country's peat lands "is not an option," says conservationist Nazir Foead, named last year to head the country's new Peatland Restoration Agency.

He says people living on peat lands have rights that should be respected.

"They spent almost all of their fortune to buy a piece of land in that area," he says, "and I think it's wiser to help them earn their living, but adaptive to the wet ecosystem."

That means planting crops suited to peat lands, such as sago and pineapple. It also means, Foead says, clearing land without fire — even if that requires greater inputs of labor, time or capital.

Despite the challenges, Foead says Indonesia's President Joko Widodo is committed to restoring the peat lands.

"I see everything is lining up," Foead says. "We need to get a few very important successes on the ground that drive markets and investors to adopt sustainable practices."

Nearly half of Indonesia's nearly 60,000 square miles of peat lands are still intact. The government has begun re-wetting the drained areas. Foead says if Indonesia can protect its intact peat lands and restore the degraded ones, it will save about a gigaton of carbon emissions a year, more carbon than Germany — with an economy five times as big as Indonesia's — emits in a year.

And that, Foead says, could set an example for others.

"We will inspire tens of countries," he says. "This is what you can do, if you do it right."

That goal remains many years off. For now, Foead's agency is aiming to restore 10 percent of Indonesia's degraded peat lands by 2020.

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Sri Lanka: Kalpitiya reef under threat

Disna Mudalige Ceylon Daily News 20 Mar 17;

The Bar Reef in Kalpitiya, which was hit for the second time by a severe coral bleaching event last year, since 1998, is under threat of destruction posing a severe risk to fishing resources, Marine Environmental Specialists cautioned.

IUCN Coastal and Marine Programme Coordinator Arjan Rajasuriya pointed out that most of the fish could disappear when the corals get affected, thereby affecting the fisheries industry.

“This will lead to fishermen resorting to destructive fishing methods. Even now we could see them laying nets on the damaged reef causing further damage,” he said.Rajasuriya, who examined the Bar Reef last week, told the Daily News that almost 99 percent of the corals in shallow waters to a depth of about 5-6 metres were dead following the El Niño and La Niña effect in 2015-2016.

“It will take at least 15-20 years for the destroyed corals to come back, but only if this bleaching occurrence did not take place repeatedly. However, with climate change, it is likely that these occurrences may happen regularly,” said Rajasuriya, who was a former Research Officer at NARA specialized in coral taxonomy.

He noted that the restoration of coral beds by replanting is not possible, given the large scale destruction. “When acres and acres are destroyed, how are you going to restore, and where are you going to get live corals to do that?” he questioned.

He said the country’s coral beds were affected during the La Niña period which happened about six months after the El Niño. He explained that the large-scale death of corals was due to the sea surface temperature increasing to a level that corals cannot tolerate.

The NARA officer observed that the coral reefs along the Western and Southern coasts were badly affected last year, while the East coast did not suffer that much because of the wind pattern and atmospheric conditions.

“When we went last week, we discovered that the reef has not recovered and most of the damaged corals have now become rubble. With the wave action and current, they roll over the living corals and bury them. The bleached corals have not got time to recover because of this movement of coral rubble,” he explained.

He pointed out that in the case of 1998, the reef structure was largely intact because it was the first large-scale bleaching event. “This helped new coral larvae to settle. When it happened this time, the reef structure was weak. Now it has turned to rubble,” he added.

Ocean Resources Conservation Association (ORCA) Marine Research Team Leader Prasanna Weerakkody speaking to the Daily News said the Bar Reef had a chance of recovering in post-1998 due to minimum human impact in the area during the time of war.

“Certain sections of the Bar Reef recovered almost perfectly and gained about 90 percent live coral cover within a decade from 1998-2009. However, now there is a lot more human impact on it such as fishing pressure, dynamiting and use of ‘laila’ and ‘surukku’ nets, ornamental fish collection, tourism and pollution. We do not know the future of the reef. For proper recovery, we need to restrict human impact. The coral reef is going to have a very difficult period recovering and it is not going to recover if we add our own pressure over it,” he said.

He observed there is a heavy growth of algae on the reef now.

The Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary declared in 1992 is the largest marine protected area in Sri Lanka. It stretches parallel to the coast from the northern end of the Kalpitiya Peninsula, to the islands which separate Portugal Bay from the Gulf of Mannar. The reserve covers about 306 square kilometres.

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