Best of our wild blogs: 21 Apr 17

Mynahs, Magpies And More At The Botanics
Winging It

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How Singapore Is Creating More Land for Itself

The island off the southern tip of Malaysia reveals the future of building in an epoch of dwindling territory.
SAMANTH SUBRAMANIAN The New York Times 20 Apr 17;

Jurong Island, a man-made smear of sand, lies just off the southern coast of Singapore. A quarter the size of Nantucket, it is thoroughly given over to the petrochemical industry, so crowded with spindly cracking towers and squat oil-storage tanks that the landscape is a blur of brand names — BASF, AkzoNobel, Exxon Mobil, Vopak. One of the island’s most distinctive features, though, remains hidden: the Jurong Rock Caverns, which hold 126 million gallons of crude oil. To get there, you ride an industrial elevator more than 325 feet into the earth, and that brings you to the operations tunnel, a curving space as lofty as a cathedral. It is so long that workers get around on bicycles. Safety goggles mist up with the heat and the humidity; the rock walls, wet from dripping water, look so soft they might have been scooped out of chocolate ice cream. This is as far as anyone — even the workers — can go. The caverns themselves are an additional 100 feet beneath the ocean: two sealed cylindrical vaults, extending away from Jurong. They opened for business in 2014. Next year, three new vaults will be ready. Then, if all goes according to plan, there will be six more.

As a concept, underground reservoirs are not new. Sweden has been building them since the 1950s; a pair in the port of Gothenburg has a titanic capacity of 370 million gallons of oil. So the Jurong Rock Caverns are less an emblem of the marvels of technology than of the anxiety of a nation. Singapore is the 192nd-largest country in the world. Tinier than Tonga and just three-fifths the area of New York City, it has long fretted about its congenital puniness. “Bigger countries have the luxury of not having to think about this,” said David Tan, the assistant chief executive of a government agency called the Jurong Town Corporation, which built Jurong Island as well as the caverns. “We’ve always been acutely aware of our small size.”

The caverns were designed to free up land above ground, Tan said. I remarked that the phrase “freeing up land” occurs like clockwork in conversations with Singapore’s planners. He laughed. Land is Singapore’s most cherished resource and its dearest ambition. Since it became an independent nation 52 years ago, Singapore has, through assiduous land reclamation, grown in size by almost a quarter: to 277 square miles from 224. By 2030, the government wants Singapore to measure nearly 300 square miles.

But reclaiming land from the ocean has its limits, particularly in an age of a warming planet. Scientists warn that by 2100, sea levels may rise by as much as six feet, and furious storms will pound our coasts. All over the world, the governments of small islands are working to respond to these hazards. Kiribati, an island nation in the Central Pacific, has bought 6,000 acres of forested land in Fiji, more than a thousand miles away, hoping to resettle some of its 100,000 people if a crisis hits. The Maldives, similarly, has talked about buying land in Australia. People have begun to leave Tuvalu, in the South Pacific; the Marshall Islands; and Nauru, in Micronesia. Five of the lowest Solomon Islands have already vanished. In humanity’s battle to save itself from a harsher climate, these diminutive islands find themselves on the front lines.

Most of these islands — in the Pacific or in Asia — are impoverished, reliant on larger nations for assistance and resources. Singapore is an exception. In countries ranked by per capita gross domestic product, it places fourth — far above Nauru, at 112, or Kiribati, at 212. Over the past half-century, building upon its function as one of the world’s great ports, Singapore has turned into a capital of finance and services. The country is so devotedly pro-business that it can feel like a corporation; its constitution includes several pages on how the government’s investments should be managed. Singapore doesn’t reveal how much money its two sovereign wealth funds administer, but a senior economist at the Macquarie Group estimated their value at just under a trillion dollars.

Among the world’s smattering of small islands, then, Singapore, with a population of 5.6 million, is a special case: a country that’s also a city, a government that owns 90 percent of all real estate, a one-party state in all but name. But how it fends off the ocean will be of deep interest to many other populous and productive cities near the water: New York, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Guangzhou, all miniature nations of a sort.

Much of Singapore lies less than 50 feet above sea level. A third of the island sits around 16 feet above the water — low enough to give planners the jitters. Coastal roads are being raised; a new airport terminal is being built 18 feet above sea level. All the while, the island receives more and more rain each year. “If global temperatures continue to rise,” a government official said last year, “many parts of Singapore could eventually be submerged.”

The Jurong Rock Caverns are just one answer to a pair of intriguing questions: What does a tremendously rich and ambitious country do when it is running out of land? And what can the rest of the world learn from these experiments?

In the Tolstoy short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” a peasant muses in frustration: “Our only trouble is that we haven’t land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself.” Similar thoughts must have struck Lee Kuan Yew, who cast Singapore in his vision. Through his three decades as prime minister, Lee saw his country as locked in a struggle against its size. Singapore was a tiny nation, and dire fates awaited tiny nations that could not take care of themselves. “In a world where the big fish eat small fish and the small fish eat shrimps, Singapore must become a poisonous shrimp,” he once said.

The island is still awash in his apprehensions. Bureaucrats assemble reports on topics like Maximizing Value From Land as a Scarce Resource. The government works from a Concept Plan, a land-use scheme that looks half a century into the future; the plan itself is reviewed every 10 years. On the first floor of a city museum in the Urban Redevelopment Authority building, a wall is engraved with letters that spell SMALL ISLAND. It’s not until the second floor that the second half of the message materializes: BIG PLANS.

A 10-minute walk from the museum is Boat Quay, the site of the island’s very first land reclamation. In 1822, having just colonized Singapore, the British dismantled a hill and packed the material along the bank of the Singapore River. “Some two or three hundred laborers were paid one rupee per head per day to dig and carry the earth,” Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, who acted as an informal secretary to British officials at the time, wrote in his 1849 memoir. “Every afternoon, sacks of money were brought to pay the workmen.” Boat Quay’s old shop-houses — shops that doubled as their owners’ residences — have been converted into restaurants, bars and massage parlors. In the evenings, the tables heave with workers from the nearby financial district, much like Manhattan’s South Street Seaport and other ribbons of waterfront realty around the world. In the spirit of preservation, the buildings of Boat Quay have remained low, crouched close to the ground. One street away, however, Singapore’s skyscrapers begin in earnest. At the spot where the hill was broken down and carted off to build Boat Quay, there now stands One Raffles Place, clad in steel and glass, taller, in all probability, than its rock-and-mud forefather.

Once I began looking for reclaimed land, I encountered it everywhere. The five towers of the Marina Bay Financial Center are built on reclaimed land; so is an assortment of parks, wharves and a coastal highway. Beach Road, in the island’s belly, at one time had a self-evident name; now it reads like a wry joke, given how much new land separates it from the ocean. Most of Singapore’s Changi Airport sits on earth where there was once only water. The artist Charles Lim Yi Yong grew up in a kampong, or village, near where work on the airport began in 1975, so his house looked out onto reclaimed land. “It was a wooded area, but if you walked there, the ground would be sand and not soil,” Lim said. “Then you went through this desert space. It felt like I was in ‘The Little Prince.’ ”

Before he turned to art, Lim, now 43, sailed in the 1996 Olympics on the Singapore team. He grew interested in the sea because he sailed, and he sailed because he came from a kampong on the coast. The kampong has long since disappeared, and the coast has changed beyond recognition. Lim’s major creation, “Sea State,” is an anthology of artifacts and installations: videos and charts, buoys and other nautical paraphernalia. Shown at the Venice Biennale two years ago, “Sea State” embodies Lim’s obsession with his country’s transactional relationship with the ocean. His art is a form of urban exploration, roving over, into and around Singapore, studying what few others see: outlying islets, sewage tunnels, buoys, lighthouses, sand barges. For Lim, most of these are easy to access. “I can just take a small sailboat and go. I look very innocuous when I’m out at sea.”

Lim is able to narrate, practically by himself, a fine-grained history of the island’s reclamation projects. He pointed me to one of the videos in “Sea State,” which he has uploaded onto Vimeo. It stars an engineer who surveyed Singapore’s neighborhoods in the 1990s to determine where it would be best to haul away sand for reclamation. Close to the coast, he found more silt than sand, so he and his colleagues went farther out to sea, to “suck the sand into the barges and deliver the sand over to Singapore.” Once, having strayed into Indonesia’s territorial waters without a permit, they were arrested. “We weren’t criminals,” he said. “We were just doing our job.”

Several countries have tired of feeding Singapore’s endless appetite for sand; Indonesia, Malaysia and, most recently, Cambodia have halted exports altogether. These bans have affected some of Singapore’s reclamation schedules, David Tan said, although he insisted that the supply lines from Myanmar were “still robust.” In any case, Singapore is trying to shrink its reliance on sand imports. “We do a lot of tunneling work for the subway, so that material goes into reclamation,” he said. Most of the infill in the reclamations under a coming shipping-container terminal — planned to be the world’s largest — is rock and soil debris from construction projects.

But the desire to reclaim never-ending shelves of land, farther and farther into the sea, will inevitably be outfoxed by physics. On a whiteboard, Tan drew me a diagram of the process: first, building a wall in the water, reaching all the way down into the seabed; next, draining the water behind the wall and replacing it with infill. As the ocean grows less shallow, it becomes harder and harder to build the wall, to stabilize the infill, to protect it all from collapse. “We’re already reclaiming in water that is 20 meters deep,” Tan said. “Maybe it would be viable to reclaim in 30 meters, if land prices go up. But 40 and 50 meters would be very difficult. It’s physically difficult and economically unviable.”

Lim had told me that Singapore holds a strategic sand reserve, for emergencies. It lies somewhere in the area called Bedok, he said. I spotted it one day as I rode past in a taxi. The site was strewn with No Trespassing signs installed by the Housing and Development Board, a government agency. Fenced off from the public, the giant trapezoidal dunes shone bone-white in the sun and caramel in the shade, as the sand waited to be summoned.

The most miserable truth about this moment of the Anthropocene is the inevitability of it all; even if the whole world switched to solar power and turned vegetarian tomorrow, we cannot remove the carbon we’ve released into the atmosphere. To live within an altered climate will require deep pockets — a fact that punishes billions of poor people with negligible carbon footprints. When Kiribati bought its land in Fiji for $7 million, critics worried that the money was being squandered; the nation’s gross domestic product, after all, is only $211 million. By contrast, the first phase of a single Singapore government project — L2 NIC, which clumsily stands for Land and Liveability National Innovation Challenge — has $96 million to disburse to finance creative ideas. When countries face up to climate change, money can expand the imagination, swell the sense of the possible.

C.M. Wang, a professor of civil engineering at the National University of Singapore, served as a project reviewer for L2 NIC, sifting through proposals for how Singapore might create more space. Wang even has an idea of his own. Approached by Singapore’s ports authority six years ago, he developed and patented a way for coastal cities to create land in the sea. At least, this is the way his staple PowerPoint presentation describes his idea for Very Large Floating Structures, which can bob about on the ocean, hold a range of facilities and “free up land.” “Singapore is the largest bunkering base in the world,” Wang told me when I went to see him in his office at the university. “Ships sail from the Suez, where they refuel, and then the next refueling stop is Singapore.” To be the Texaco station of the high seas, the island needs to maintain vast farms of oil tanks, enough to store the 53.6 million tons of fuel sold to ships last year.

“A logical move would be to store fuel in the sea, because fuel is lighter than water, so it should float,” Wang said. “What we need is a skin to go around it, a container.” He sketched a plan on a scrap of paper: two rectangular concrete decks laid out in parallel, holding oil tanks made of prestressed concrete partly submerged in the water. A ship could slide between the two decks, refuel and steam back out. Wang is working on making his design more economical, but he already has other ideas for floats. On his computer, he flicked through them: dormitories, a restaurant that resembles a crab, bridges, even miniature cities. Last October, to test a proposal from two government agencies, Singapore floated a hectare of solar panels in one of its reservoirs; it hopes, eventually, to build a four-gigawatt solar plant at sea.

Wang urged me to visit the Float at Marina Bay, the world’s largest floating stage, a 107,000-square-foot slice of steel that clings to the lip of Singapore’s esplanade. The afternoon I went, a shroud of smog covered an already sunless sky, and the artificial grass on the Float’s soccer field seemed wan and uninviting. Life preservers were fastened to the railings around the field, lest a player tumble into the sea. I sat on a bench for a while, with my back to the skyscrapers, watching office workers limber up for a friendly game. They looked happy enough with this insertion of playtime into their day, but watching them rattle around on this unnatural parcel of green was, somehow, dispiriting.

Still, unnaturalness may well be the world’s conceivable future; certainly it will be Singapore’s, as the country prepares to terraform itself in search of space. There will be more underground caverns, David Tan told me: a warren of research laboratories within the folds of Kent Ridge, right under the university; perhaps a warehousing facility beneath Jurong Bird Park. “Most of this space will be for industrial use,” he said. “People aren’t likely to live underground.” The island’s geology — a heart of granite in the west, compacted alluvium in the east — is such that most of it could be hollowed out. “Now, I’m not saying we should use it all,” he went on, in the tone of an eminently prudent man. Then he added, “But we can use two-thirds of it.”

Singapore also plans to reclaim its air. “Twelve percent of the island is occupied by roads,” Tan said. “What’s above roads? Nothing! If you put roads under buildings, you free up some land.” Sky bridges and midair concourses are already a part of some public-housing estates. As Wang told me: “In the future, you might see a little town or offices above the expressways. We might create space above our container ports.”

Singapore already has high-rise factories: towers occupied by dozens of manufacturing units, all sharing amenities like cargo elevators, electricity and truck ramps. Since 2012, the government has funded vertical farms, shelves of aluminum planters that grow spinach, lettuce and Chinese cabbage. Singapore grows only 7 percent of its food, having decided long ago that its land has more profitable uses. In the 1980s, it began dispatching its pig farms to outlying Indonesian islands like Batam, which still supplies Singapore with pork. The government has invested $380 million in agricultural projects in Australia, and it is renting land in northeast China to build itself a farm that will measure double the area of the island of Singapore. The farm will take 15 years to complete and will cost $18 billion. Given enough ready money, thorny issues of territorial sovereignty swiftly dissolve.

Whether many of these ventures will bear fruit is difficult to say. When you’re talking to a typically matter-of-fact city planner, each of these ideas seems to possess the heft of certainty. Collected together, though, this vision of Singapore — on the ground and under it, in the air and beneath the sea, a city and a country and a transnational entity all at once — feels fantastic. Then again, even Singapore as it is — born a slum-ridden speck with no oil, no hinterland and a volatile mix of ethnicities, raised with an authoritarian hand and transformed into one of the most prosperous, most politically meek nations on earth — even this Singapore tugs at the bounds of our credulity.

Singapore has always held elections, but only one party — Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party — has ever ruled the island, and only three men have ever been prime minister. Opposition parties have never been permitted to be anything more than frail invertebrates, so the P.A.P. can do as it pleases. The environmental consequences of remodeling the coastline — an altered ecology, wetlands rubbed off the map — can be waved away. Residents can be moved so that projects can proceed. In Singapore’s quandary of where to put its people, the people themselves — the living as well as the dead — can seem like pieces on a checkerboard.

The Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery lies as close to Singapore’s geographical midpoint as is possible without intruding into the grounds of the Singapore Island Country Club. No one has been buried here since 1973, but it still holds more than 200,000 human remains within its 400 acres, making it one of the largest Chinese graveyards outside China. Burials began on this site in the 1830s, and the interred include several Singaporean pioneers, men and women who settled and built the island. Someone told me that the man who introduced the governess Anna Leonowens to the king of Siam was buried in a Bukit Brown tomb, but the casual visitor will be hard-pressed to find it. The cemetery is so overgrown with weeds that it is one of Singapore’s few truly untended spaces. There is no signage, and most inscriptions are in Chinese. The tombs are dignified affairs, shaped like thrones, broad enough to hold full families. On some of the short plinths, in front of the headstone, people had placed lighted joss sticks that had long since burned down; only their stems remained, like the surviving bristles of an ancient toothbrush.

One side of the path into the cemetery was lined with a green metal fence hiding construction work on a new expressway that will soon tear through the heart of Bukit Brown. “We can’t have that graveyard in the center of the island forever,” a former city planner told me. Singapore prefers columbaria, in which urns of cremated remains are stored in cavities on a wall. “All our graves are high-rise too!” he said with a laugh. A group of citizens is campaigning to save Bukit Brown, calling it a vital piece of the island’s heritage, but more than 4,000 graves have already been exhumed, and the ground that contained them has been leveled.

In a restless polity, such single-mindedness would earn the ruling party a risky degree of unpopularity, but nothing seems to dent the P.A.P. It won an election in 2011, even though Singaporeans were angry over housing shortages and an overburdened public-transportation system. It won even more handily in 2015, after land prices rose by 30 percent three years in a row and after the government’s migration-led population target of 6.9 million by 2030 — necessary to fill out the work force, but also a strain on the island’s finite resources — kindled a public protest, a singular event in this country. But stopping the state from doing something it wants to do is, in Singapore, a task primed for defeat. An inert citizenry gives the government the freest of hands in confronting climate change, just as it does in every other sphere, far into the foreseeable future.

One afternoon, Charles Lim and I drove to a marina near the southeastern corner of Singapore and rented a sailboat, a two-man Laser Bahia in which Lim did the work of both men. The haze from Indonesia’s forest fires muddied the day; the ocean looked as if it were evaporating in front of us. Not far beyond the marina, cargo ships and oil tankers waited patiently for their turn at port. To the east rose the tall, unblinking surveillance tower of Changi Naval Base. “I call it the Eye of Sauron,” Lim said.

The wind rose and fell in heavy gusts; Lim’s hair, tousled even indoors, grew still more animated. He pointed out a man-made hill eastward along the coast from the marina, where trucks and earthmovers milled about. This was the Changi East reclamation: more than a thousand hectares of land, designed to hold the new airport terminal and its three runways. In trying to edge closer, we must have wandered into sensitive waters. A loudspeaker screamed from the naval base, punctuated by three types of sirens: “You are entering a prohibited area! Please clear now!” Lim instructed me to pull at various ropes, and we tacked hurriedly out.

A couple of hours after we cast off, we came upon Tekong Island, sitting in the strait between Singapore and Malaysia, owned by the former but nearer the latter. The two countries bickered over reclamation activities here in 2002; it took three years of negotiations before Singapore could proceed. The part of the island where Singapore’s army units train was a smoky smudge on the horizon. Our boat nuzzled against a rock wall that marked out reclamation work. The wall began on the northern coast of the island, ran eastward to sea and then looped back to a point on the southern coast. In outline, it resembled a porpoise’s nose.

“That’s odd,” Lim said. “There’s no one here.” No trucks, no security guards, no bulldozers. “Maybe they’ve stopped work because of a shortage of sand.”

Lim held the boat steady while I waded into the shallows for a better look, careful not to trespass on the island. The rocks underfoot were slick, and I barked my shin.

“How does it look?” Lim called.

A few feet from the outer wall was an inner one, and packed between the two was sand: lovely, pristine sand the color of milky Ovaltine. It was held firm and tight in its sleeve of rock, its surface so level that had I walked on it, I might have been the first visitor on undiscovered land. Trapped beyond the inner wall was a low pool of water, yet to be filled in. Around us, the ocean lay idle in the sun, ready to challenge Singapore’s ingenuity with its patient, adamant rise.

Samanth Subramanian is a correspondent for The National and the author of “This Divided Island: Life, Death, and the Sri Lankan War.”

Sim Chi Yin is a writer-turned-photographer from Singapore who has been based in China for 10 years. She is currently working on a global project on sand.

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Singapore mass coral spawning less intense this year

Sea organisms' energy reserves likely sapped by last year's extended bleaching incident
Audrey Tan Straits Times 21 Apr 17;

As the sky turned to ink on Monday, seven men and women waited with baited breath at a secluded island off Singapore's southern coast to witness a once-a-year spectacle - an orgy, they hoped, of spectacular proportions.

But this year's mass coral spawning ended more with a whimper than a bang, as local reefs are still shaking off the effects of last year's bleaching event, caused by an extended period of elevated sea surface temperatures.

Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine division at the National Parks Board's (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre, said: "The impact of the longer coral bleaching last year on this year's coral spawning is a major concern."

A "greatly reduced spawning intensity" was recorded this year compared to past years, Dr Tun said. "However, the species that did not bleach last year were not affected and displayed healthy spawning."

Healthy coral reefs are important as they draw in marine life and function as a nursery for baby fish. Corals depend on symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, for energy. Bleaching occurs when abnormally high sea temperatures cause corals to expel the algae, turning the corals white and depriving them of a key source of nutrition.

Last year, Singapore's corals endured the longest bleaching incident on record. It started in June and corals started recovering only at the end of the year. It was not just corals in Singapore that were affected. Last month, a study by Australian scientists found that two-thirds of the 2,300km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef had also suffered serious bleaching.

Scientists here think that the limited spawning this year could be because corals had more critical resource concerns.

Said Dr Toh Tai Chong, a marine biologist from National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI): "After bleaching, corals devote a lot of energy to recovering. This depletes the amount of energy they store in their tissues and reduces the amount of energy available to initiate or complete the sexual reproduction."

Dr Tun told The Straits Times on Monday, after a dive off Raffles Lighthouse to monitor this year's spawning event: "When bleaching occurs, corals lose their algae. When that happens, it might affect the reproductive cycle."

The reproductive cycle for broadcast coral spawners - or corals that reproduce through the mass release of eggs and sperm into the water column - usually lasts between six and eight months, noted Dr Tun.

For spawning to occur, corals must have enough time and energy to complete the cycle, similar to how human mothers need to carry their babies in the womb for nine months before giving birth. When energy resources are insufficient, corals may skip a spawning event, or produce less sperm and eggs.

In Singapore, the affair takes place once a year, usually beginning on the third night after the full moon in late March or April.

NParks scientists are planning another dive after the full moon next month, just in case there is any delayed spawning.

The last bleaching incident in Singapore occurred in 2010 between June and September. But corals affected then started recovering around the time the reproductive cycle in corals was expected to start. The spawning event in 2011 was observed to be less intense compared to the pre-bleaching 2010 spawning event. However, this year's spawning intensity was observed to be even weaker than that in 2011, said Dr Tun.

Mr Stephen Beng, head of the marine conservation group at Nature Society (Singapore), noted that intense bleaching incidents may become more frequent with climate change. He said: "We should be equally concerned with longer term threats, such as climate change, as we are with immediate ones such as coastal development, overfishing and pollution."

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Monkey on the loose at Segar Road eludes AVA's efforts to catch it

Today Online 20 Apr 17;
SINGAPORE — Efforts to catch a monkey that has been harassing residents at Segar Road have so far been unsuccessful, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) said in a statement Thursday (April 20).

Despite deploying traps and using darts in attempts to tranquilise the monkey, the primate has managed to elude AVA's joint operation with Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).

Describing the monkey's behaviour as "atypical", the Group Director, Animal Management Group at AVA, Ms Jessica Kwok said: "It is not normal for monkeys to approach people, and enter homes.

"The monkey's behaviour is likely to have been altered due to feeding, which has caused it to associate humans with food.

"The presence of food from feeders, which are easily available, may have conditioned the monkey to regularly visit the estate in search of food," Ms Kwok added. Control operations are still ongoing.

Five cases of monkey attacks have been reported in the Segar area so far this week, AVA noted, of which one case happened in early April but was only reported recently.

The Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council is also working with AVA to prune trees and harvest fruits from trees in the estate to reduce the attractiveness of the estate to the monkeys, as trees are natural sources of food and shelter.

In its update, AVA advised the public to stay away from its operations for their own safety.

"Crowds of people may hamper our operations by causing the monkey to be wary and go into hiding," Ms Kwok said.

"Residents in Segar estate are also advised to keep their windows and doors closed as much as possible, especially during the early mornings and late afternoons, when the monkey is known to be more active.

"The public can also make their premises less attractive to monkeys by keeping food out of sight from the monkey and practicing good food refuse management, such as double knotting garbage bags and disposing garbage in bins with secured lids."

On Monday morning, a monkey bit an elderly resident, Mr Tan Leng Choo, when he was lounging at the void deck of Block 472 Segar Road.

In the past six months, there have been 160 instances of wild monkeys attacking people or causing a nuisance in the Segar Road area

In Nov 2016, one monkey was removed from the same estate after control operations.

Segar monkey attacks likely caused by single monkey: AVA
Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: Following a spate of attacks by monkeys in Bukit Panjang's Segar area, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) on Thursday (Apr 20) said they are likely to be caused by a single monkey.

In a statement issued to the media, AVA said it is "not normal" for monkeys to approach people and enter homes, and the attacks are "a display of atypical behaviour".

"The monkey’s behaviour is likely to have been altered due to feeding, which has caused it to associate humans with food. The presence of food from feeders, which are easily available, may have conditioned the monkey to regularly visit the estate in search of food," AVA said. It noted that five cases of monkey attacks in the Segar area were reported in the past week. One of these cases occurred in early April, AVA said, but was only reported recently.

AVA added that it is working with the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) to remove the monkey in the area, and that various humane methods - such as deploying traps or using darts to tranquilise the primate - will be used. No monkeys were caught in its recent operations exercise, AVA said.

AVA has received about 160 reports of monkey attacks and nuisance in the area since October last year. Most recently, an elderly man was hospitalised after being bitten by a monkey on Monday morning.


The authority added that it has been working with stakeholders to mitigate the monkey issues since October last year. They have conducted control operations, and a monkey was removed from the area in November 2016.

Additionally, AVA said it has worked with the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council to prune trees and harvest fruit from the trees in the estate, as trees are natural sources of food and shelter for the monkeys.

"We advise the public to keep clear of our operations for their own safety. Crowds of people may hamper our operations by causing the monkey to be wary and go into hiding," the statement said.

AVA also urged residents in Segar to keep their windows and doors closed as much as possible, especially during the early mornings and late afternoons when the monkey is known to be more active.

"The public can also make their premises less attractive to monkeys by keeping food out of sight from the monkey and practicing good food refuse management, such as double knotting garbage bags and disposing garbage in bins with secured lids," AVA said.

"Aggressive monkeys pose a risk to public safety. Monkeys may also carry zoonotic diseases that are harmful to public health," AVA added. "AVA’s priority in managing the wild animal population is to ensure public health and safety is not compromised."

- CNA/dl

Acres, WRS and AVA swing into action but macaques still monkeying around
Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Apr 17;

A team armed with tranquiliser guns and blowpipes was out yesterday morning to hunt and sedate long-tailed macaques which have harassed and injured Housing Board flat residents in Bukit Panjang.

Over the last four days, five to six personnel from animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), and the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) were deployed as early as 6am to look for the primates at Segar Road.

Yesterday, the team concentrated its efforts in the vicinity of a large playground flanked by Blocks 465 to 471.

Acres deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal, who was on site, said a monkey appeared but kept moving away because of onlookers who had gathered, making it difficult to get a shot.

As of 12.30pm yesterday, no monkeys had been captured.

A 71-year-old resident of Block 465, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ong, said he saw the officers trying to catch a monkey on Tuesday evening, without success.

"It just climbed higher and higher and disappeared," said Mr Ong.

Housewife Eileen Chew, 67, said a monkey had entered her 14th-storey flat in Block 478. She is worried that more people may get hurt, especially children, if the monkey continues to run around unchecked.

"If they don't catch it, kids will be in trouble," she said.

Read also: 5 reported monkey attacks this week in Segar area, says AVA

Since last October, AVA has received about 160 pieces of feedback on monkey attacks and nuisance in the estate.

It is aware of five reported monkey attacks in the Segar area this week. So far, it has caught one monkey there, in November last year.

Elderly man bitten by monkey at Bukit Panjang in stable condition: MP
Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: The elderly man who was bitten by a wild monkey on Monday (Apr 17) is in stable condition after sustaining "quite a serious wound", Member of Parliament for the Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency Liang Eng Hwa said on Thursday.

"He was sent to the hospital and they carried out some surgical operations to mend the wounds," Mr Liang said, adding that the man was remaining in the hospital for observation.

"But we’ll continue to monitor; the last I talked to the family he looked okay," said Mr Liang.

Channel NewsAsia understands from the man’s family that he was discharged from the hospital on Thursday afternoon.

The man's injury is believed to have been inflicted by a monkey who has been reportedly entering homes at the Segar area in Bukit Panjang and attacking residents for months.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) called the monkey situation in the neighbourhood a "public safety risk" on Monday, revealing that it had received about 160 reports of monkey attacks and nuisance in the area since October last year.

A town hall meeting was held on Wednesday night to discuss the situation. It was attended by around 150 residents.

During the meeting, Mr Liang updated residents on the steps taken to catch the monkey and told residents who have sustained injuries by the monkeys to approach him with the medical costs.

"We will look at each case sympathetically, we’ll try to apply the financial assistance schemes to assist them whatever (way) we can," he said.

At the same time, Mr Liang urged residents to keep calm.

"We still have to get on with our lives - if you want to go to the park, want to go for a jog, want to bring our kids to the playground - we should continue doing that, but just take some precautions," he said.

"We don’t want our residents’ lives to be affected by just one lone monkey disturbing us."


Over the last three days, a joint team comprising personnel from Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), Wildlife Reserves Singapore and AVA have been trying to find and tranquillise the aggressive monkey.

When Channel NewsAsia visited the site on Thursday morning, about five to six members of the team were seen patrolling the area as curious residents stopped to watch the operations.

According to ACRES, the plan is to rehabilitate the monkey for relocation when it is caught.

ACRES deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal said "aggressive" behaviour by wild monkeys likely stemmed from humans feeding the monkeys.

"Most of the cases that ACRES sees, it always starts with someone feeding the monkeys," she said. "It results in the monkeys seeing humans as sources of food. Whether the person wants to feed it or not, the monkey will still approach looking for food and it results in such unfortunate incidences."

"There have been incidents of harassment of the monkey as well here, so definitely it will result in changing, altering the behaviour of the monkey, thus resulting in such conflict situations," she added.

Ms Boopal advised residents that when confronted by monkeys, they should not to interact with or feed the animals.

"If the monkey does approach the units, we would definitely urge the residents at this point to close the windows and remove any openly displayed food by the windows," she said.

She also advised residents to scare monkeys that enter their units away, for example by using pans to make loud noises.

- CNA/mz

Spike in monkey attacks in Segar Road
Alysha Chandra The New Paper 20 Apr 17;

Monkey attacks in Segar Road have been so frequent in recent weeks that a clinic there has run out of tetanus vaccine.

This month alone, the My Family Clinic at Block 485, Segar Road, saw eight patients who came in with monkey bites and scratches.

The clinic's staff had to place a sign outside the clinic telling patients to inform them upon registration if they have been bitten or scratched by a monkey.

Clinic staff told The New Paper that this was because the clinic had run out of tetanus vaccine and they would have to direct these patients to a hospital or polyclinic, where stocks of the vaccine are available.

Residents at Segar Road have seen a spike in monkey attacks recently. Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Member of Parliament Liang Eng Hwa told TNP that he had received 10 reports of residents being injured by monkeys in the Segar Road area this year.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it had received about 160 reports on monkey attacks and nuisance in the Segar area since last October.

On Monday, retiree Tan Kim Leng, 77, was bitten on the leg by a monkey and is still warded at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

Yesterday, Mr Tan underwent a second surgery for his wounds.

Mr Liang met residents last night to update them on the situation.

He told the 100 or so residents that for at least 12 hours each day, there will be at least two people on the ground attempting to catch monkeys.

Along with sharing tips on how to respond during an encounter with a monkey, Mr Liang also urged residents to call the AVA hotline if they encounter a monkey and to not crowd around AVA officers trying to shoot the monkeys with darts.

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) is working with AVA to dart the animals so as to rehabilitate and relocate them.

An Acres spokesman told TNP that the monkeys at Segar Road might display aggressive behaviour as they have been fed by humans before, causing them to see humans as food sources.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, group director of conservation at the National Parks Board, told TNP that it has issued Notices of Offence to more than 100 people since 2016 for feeding monkeys.

"Feeding wild monkeys alters their natural behaviour and makes them reliant on humans for food," said Mr Wong.

"This eventually leads the monkeys to display aggressive behaviour, such as grabbing plastic bags and food containers from people."

Infectious disease expert Dr Leong Hoe Nam, of Rophi Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, told TNP: "While we don't have to worry about rabies in Singapore, monkey bites carry the risk of the usual bite wound infections, as well as herpes B, which has a small risk of causing brain infection.

"Monkey bites and scratches in Singapore are treated with the usual tetanus shot and antibiotics if the wound is deep and dirty."

Read more!

NParks looks to end use of chalk and flour for 'hash' runs

Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) is looking into prohibiting the use of any white substances for "hash" runs.

This comes after the Woodleigh MRT station security scare, where a suspicious white substance - which turned out to be baking flour - was left behind by a local running group to mark their trail.

Channel NewsAsia understands that NParks and the running groups are also looking into alternative markings such as ice cream sticks or plastic markers.

The Seletar Hash House Harriers, who were behind the "suspicious white substance" at Woodleigh MRT station, have apologised for the alarm and inconvenience caused.

The group said that three of their members were marking a trail near the station for a run using flour.

They chose the MRT underpass from Bidadari to Woodleigh Close as it was the safest route to cross Upper Serangoon Road.

NParks said it is currently working with these hash running groups to reduce the use of baking flour.

“Where 'hash runs' are allowed in NParks-managed areas, chalk and flour are prohibited as these substances are more difficult to clean up (and) might seep into and cause damage to the environment,” said NParks group director for conservation Wong Tuan Wah in a statement. “If consumed, these substances might have detrimental effect on wildlife.”

“Only toilet or tissue paper is allowed to be used as markings and they must be cleaned up immediately after the event. If they are not cleaned up, enforcement action could be taken,” added Mr Wong.

Under the Parks and Tree Act, members of the public who litter in Singapore parks and nature reserves may be fined up to S$5,000.


On Tuesday, the baking flour incident triggered the closure of the MRT station for three hours. Another security scare involving an unattended bag at Hougang MRT station earlier this month caused the station to temporarily close.

One security expert said that authorities could look into streamlining their procedures to minimise the disruption to commuters.

"What they could have done maybe is determine first if it was bio-hazardous and if it's not, while investigations are still going on, they could just cordon off the area but ensure you resume some form of service to the MRT line,” said Nur Diyanah Anwar, a security expert from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“I think three hours is disruptive on any measure and I think once they have ironed out the procedure that they should take, it should be shorter."

- CNA/nc

NParks working with 'hash' runners to reduce practice of marking out running routes
Lydia Lam, The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Apr 17;

The National Parks Board (NParks) said it has been working with Hash House Harriers to reduce the practice of marking out running routes, after a "hashing" group left flour at Woodleigh MRT Station on Tuesday (April 18) and sparked a security scare.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, Mr Wong Tuan Wah, group director of conservation at NParks, said NParks has been working with Hash House Harriers to "reduce the need of using markers when they run in NParks-managed areas".

ST understands that this is not in reaction to Tuesday's incident, but instead is part of ongoing discussions.

Advance runners from Hash House Harriers groups mark out a trail using flour, chalk or toilet paper so that the runners after them can pick up the "clues" and follow the route.

Read Also: Man uses flour to mark out hashing trail at Woodleigh MRT: What exactly is hashing?

One man was arrested and two others are assisting with police investigations after flour left at various parts of Woodleigh MRT Station on Tuesday (April 18) led to the station being closed for more than three hours and police and Singapore Civil Defence Officers being deployed.

"NParks regularly meets up with Hash House Harriers (HHH) to advise on the rules regarding 'hash' running in our managed areas," said Mr Wong on Thursday.

He added that chalk and flour are prohibited in NParks-managed areas as the substances "are more difficult to clean up, might seep into and cause damage to the environment".

If consumed, these substances might also have detrimental effects on wildlife.

Read Also: Running group apologises for Woodleigh station incident, says should have used signs

"Only toilet or tissue paper are allowed to be used as markings, and they must be cleaned up immediately after the event," he said.

"If they are not cleaned up, enforcement action could be taken."

Under the Parks and Tree Act, those who litter in parks and nature reserves can be fined up to $5,000.

Mr Ken Ong, chairman of the Hash House Harriers, Singapore, told ST that using toilet paper to mark trails within NParks areas was an agreement reached between NParks and the hashing community.

"The condition imposed is that we will have to remove all traces of the paper latest by noon the next day," he said.

"Usually, we have one of the members setting the trail pick up all the paper as soon as the last runner has gone by, within the very same day."

When asked about Tuesday's incident, where runners from the Seletar Hash House Harriers sprinkled flour at Woodleigh MRT Station, Mr Ong said: "Those men from Tuesday Hash were setting a trail for their fellow members, marking it with flour."

He added that his group, which runs on Mondays, "almost always set our runs in non-urban areas, thereby avoiding sensitive locations like MRT stations and such".

In a statement issued on Wednesday (April 19), the Seletar Hash House Harriers apologised to the public and authorities for the alarm and inconvenience caused.

They explained that three of its members had chosen to use the MRT underpass for members to go from Bidadari towards Woodleigh Close "as this provided the safest route to cross Upper Serangoon Road".

Man uses flour to mark out hashing trail at Woodleigh MRT: What exactly is hashing?
Lam Min Lee AsiaOne 19 Apr 17;

A 69-year-old man was arrested for leaving behind a suspicious white substance at Woodleigh MRT station, causing it to be closed for security checks on Tuesday (April 18).

He had placed flour in the station to mark a trail for other members in his running club called Seletar Hash House Harriers, which organises hash runs in Singapore every Tuesday evening.

The incident also cast the spotlight on the outdoor activity. So, what exactly is 'hashing'?

1. It is an activity that combines cross country running and treasure hunt

Hashing was created by a group of British expatriates in Malaysia in 1938, and fashioned after an outdoor racing game called 'hares and hounds'.

In the game, a 'hare' lays a trail using toilet paper, flour, or chalk for a pack of 'hounds', who figure out the clues and aim to catch the 'hare' before it reaches the end of the trail.

A hash run is typically held over an hour or so.

Singapore Hash House Harriers

2. There's an element of surprise in hashing

The temporary markings used in the trail may disappear over time, which makes the game challenging.

A 'hare' may throw the 'hounds' off its track with false trails, short cuts, and dead ends. These are designed to keep the pack of 'hounds' together regardless of their fitness levels or running speeds.

Participants also often find themselves going on runs in places ranging from the jungle to the city.

Hash Running 2015 - 2016

3. Runners have been hashing in Singapore for decades

There are about 10 such running clubs in the country, with Hash House Harriers Singapore, which was founded in 1962, claiming to be 'father hash' that spawned the rest.

Monday Hash House Harriers Singapore @ Bukit Brown #1

4. Hashing has inspired several spin-offs

There's bike hashing for those who prefer to travel around the island on their mountain bicycles, while canine lovers have created 'Dash' where runners can bring their dogs along for the hash run.

5. Hashing is a social activity

These groups often describe themselves as 'drinking clubs with a running problem'. Hashers often wind down from their runs in a 'circle' where they socialize, sing drinking songs and enjoy some drinks (usually beer) and food.

Read more!

Hazy conditions return as 24-hour PSI readings edge towards unhealthy region

Today Online 21 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — Residents in southern and eastern Singapore woke up to the unwelcome sight of hazy skies, as the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings edged towards to the unhealthy region on Friday (April 21) morning.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), the overall 24-hour PSI readings for Singapore at 7am was between 62 and 93. The southern and eastern parts of Singapore registered the highest readings, at 93 and and 87 respectively.

The 24-hour PSI readings have been steadily climbing in the last 12 hours, from between 60 to 84 at 8pm on Thursday to the current level. The current 24-hour PSI readings are within the moderate range.

The air quality is considered to be in the unhealthy range when the 24-hour PSI readings are above 101, according to the NEA.

Meanwhile, the agency said on Twitter that heavy thundery showers with gusty wind are expected over many areas of Singapore this morning.

Read more!

2 cases of Zika confirmed at Glasgow Road in Kovan

Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: Two cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection have been confirmed at the Glasgow Road area near Kovan, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Thursday (Apr 20).

Both cases are residents in the area, it added.

NEA said it was notified of the cluster on Thursday and has started vector control operations and outreach efforts at the cluster area. It urged residents to maintain vigilance and continue to eliminate mosquito breeding habitats, as there could still be asymptomatic or mild, undiagnosed cases which might result in further transmission of the virus if there are mosquitoes in the vicinity.

The agency said: "NEA has been conducting preventive inspections in the vicinity even before the cluster at Glasgow Road area was notified to detect and destroy any potential mosquito breeding habitats."

An additional case has also been confirmed at Poh Huat Road West, NEA said, expanding the original cluster at the Poh Huat Terrace and Terrasse Lane area. Two cases were confirmed at this cluster on Apr 11.

The number of cases reported at the Flower Road and Hendry Close cluster remains at two, the agency added.

NEA said that it is continuing with vector control operations in the Flower Road, Hendry Close and Poh Huat Road West cluster areas.

- CNA/am

3 new Zika cases reported, with 2 at Glasgow Road
Today Online 20 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE – Three new cases of Zika infections have been reported this week, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on its website.

Two were reported in the Glasgow Road area, with the third case reported at the Poh Huat Road West (Nouvelle Pk)/Poh Huat Terrace/Terrasse Lane (Terrasse) cluster.

Glasgow Road is adjacent to Flower Road, where previous Zika cases had been reported earlier this month.

The first cluster in the area, at Simon Place, has been closed.

NEA has urged all residents and stakeholders to maintain vigilance and take immediate steps to eliminate mosquito breeding habitats by practising the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout.

Most people infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms, which heightens the risk of a Zika resurgence as it may take some time before a reintroduced Zika virus is detected.

Members of the public are advised to seek medical attention if they are unwell, especially with symptoms such as fever and rash. They should also inform their doctors of the location of their residence and workplace.

Singapore had its first locally transmitted case of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in August last year.

Read more!

NTUC FairPrice reduced food wastage by 48,000kg in 2016

Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: Supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice reduced its food wastage by a whopping 48,000kg last year, it said on Thursday (Apr 20).

In a news release, FairPrice said its food waste index, which measures total food waste per sqm of retail space, fell from 6.9kg/sqm in 2015 to 6.3kg/sqm in 2016. When it first launched its food waste reduction initiative in 2014, the index was 11.6kg/sqm.

The supermarket chain attributed the decrease to its food waste reduction and donation initiatives.

One of these, the Great Taste Less Waste Selection initiative, involves cutting fruits and vegetables that are not aesthetically appealing into smaller pieces and repackaging them at lower prices to make them more attractive to consumers.

Fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of food waste, amounting to about 60 per cent of all food waste, FairPrice said.

Under a partnership with non-profit organisation Food from the Heart, FairPrice has also donated more than S$290,000 worth of “unsold but still wholesome” canned food products to the needy.

It also donated S$150,000 to Food from the Heart’s Clean Plates campaign, which aims to encourage more than 10,000 primary school students not to waste food.

FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng said that food waste reduction remained a key priority in the retailer's commitment towards sustainability.

"We are encouraged that the various initiatives we introduced to address this issue have gained traction over a short period of time with strong support from the community and our partners," he added.

- CNA/mz

Repackaging, donations enabled FairPrice to slash food wastage
Today Online 21 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — By repackaging unappealing-looking but still good-to-consume food, as well as donating unsold canned food, NTUC FairPrice, the largest supermarket chain here, reduced food wastage by 48,000kg last year, an 8.6 per cent drop from 2015.

Compared with 2014, when it started initiatives to tackle the issue, FairPrice’s food wastage has nearly halved (45 per cent), the chain said in an update yesterday, ahead of Earth Day tomorrow. More and more food waste has been generated every year.

In 2015, 785,500 tonnes were generated, more than 30 per cent higher than a decade ago, latest statistics from the National Environment Agency website show.

The recycling rate of food waste, however, has stagnated at 13 per cent from 2013 to 2015.

In 2006, the recycling rate was 8 per cent, rising to a high of 16 per cent in 2010, before plunging to 10 per cent in 2011, then inching up.

FairPrice started repackaging unappealing-looking food for sale at marked-down prices in 2015 to try to cut down on the amount of food it had to dump.

Under this initiative — first introduced at its FairPrice Xtra stores, and since expanded to 109 supermarkets islandwide — fruits and vegetables with slight blemishes and bruises sliced away, were cut into smaller pieces and sold at a marked down price. Whole fruits with slight blemishes were also repackaged into a variety pack and sold at a lower price.

FairPrice noted that fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of food waste, amounting to about 60 per cent of all such waste.

The chain also donates unsold canned food to voluntary welfare organisation Food from the Heart, which sends it to more than 40 charities, helping over 7,000 beneficiaries monthly.

FairPrice also supports the Food from the Heart’s Clean Plate campaign, aimed at encouraging more than 10,000 primary school students not to waste food. It donated S$150,000 in support of this initiative to the Voluntary Welfare Organisation last year.

This year, FairPrice also donated unsold food, as well as provided three collection points for food donations, for Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s 10-Tonne Food Drive for Food Bank Singapore.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, chief executive officer of NTUC FairPrice, said: “Food waste reduction remains a key priority in our commitment towards our sustainability efforts. We are encouraged that the various initiatives we introduced to address this issue have gained traction over a short period of time with strong support from the community and our partners.”

Read more!

Malaysia: Sabah scraps controversial plan for Kinbatangan bridge

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 21 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A controversial plan to build a 350-metre bridge spanning Kinabatangan in Sukau has been scrapped by the state government.

The landmark decision was announced by the Sabah Forestry Department's Chief Conservator of Forests, Datuk Sam Mannan, when speaking at the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) dinner in London, yesterday.

The project stoked controversy when environmentalists, including famed English naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, raised concerns over the environmental impact such a bridge would have on wildlife there.

Attenborough said it would threaten one of the last sanctuaries of the Bornean pygmy elephant.

"In making this decision, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman has taken into consideration all the concerns and opinions expressed related to the bridge, including those from Sime Darby, Nestle, scientists and non-governmental groups, and also the opinion of someone who knows the territory better than anyone else – Sir Attenborough," Sam said.

He added that Attenborough's comments “broke the camel's back” and made the Sabah government understand that the issue does not just concern Sabah, but the world.

Sabah scraps Sukau bridge project
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 20 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has scrapped a controversial plan to build a second bridge across the Kinabatangan River.

The Sabah government's decision to scrap the RM223mil Sukau bridge project was announced in London by Sabah Forest Department chief conservator Datuk Sam Mannan.

Mannan said this during his speech at the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) dinner Thursday held at the Royal Society in London.

"In making this decision, Chief Minister of Sabah Datuk Seri Musa Aman has taken into consideration all the concerns and opinions expressed related to the bridge, including those from Yayasan Sime Darby, Nestle, scientists and NGO groups and also the opinion of someone who knows the territory better than anybody else – Sir David Attenborough," Mannan said.

In March, the Guardian newspaper published an article highlighting Sir David Attenborough's concerns over the proposed bridge that would span 350m across the Kinabatangan River, threatening one of the last sanctuaries of the rare Bornean pygmy elephant.

"If I may say so, that headline broke the camel's back," Mannan said.

"It made us understand that the issue of a proposed bridge across a protected area for wildlife is now the number one environmental concern not just in Sabah, but globally too, because of the extremely precarious situation of the rich wildlife therein."

"The Chief Minister of Sabah has taken everyone's views into consideration – including Sir Attenborough - before deciding on this very important issue, and I am pleased to say that balanced development has prevailed," Mannan said, adding that Musa had permitted him to disclose the decision at the gathering.

"We are not going ahead with the bridge," he said.

The proposed Sukau bridge project received strong objections from local and international conservationists who said it would disrupt the migratory route of wildlife and negate wildlife conservation.

The Kinabatangan Conservation Area is described as "Sabah's Gift to the Earth" and has been dubbed the "Corridor of Life".

Groups: Scrapping bridge project will boost wildlife conservation
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 21 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Conservation groups are hailing the Sabah government’s decision to scrap the controversial Sukau Bridge project as a “win-win” for both man and nature.

Save Kinabatangan, a coalition of civil societies against the RM223mil project, said that while it was a difficult decision for the Chief Minister, it would go a long way towards conserving the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We wish to wholeheartedly support the people of Sukau and the other Kinabatangan communities in working towards a regional vision.

“This way, the wildlife and people, and the oil palm and tourism sectors, can come together to build a mutually beneficial future,” it said in a statement after the announcement in London by Sabah Forest chief conservator Datuk Sam Mannan.

Environmentalists had strongly objected to the project, arguing that it would disrupt the migratory route of wildlife and negate conservation efforts.

Mannan disclosed the state government’s decision to scrap the second bridge over Sungai Kinabatangan during his speech at the South-East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) dinner on Wednesday at the Royal Society.

The Chief Minister, he said, had taken into consideration all views over the bridge, including from Yayasan Sime Darby, Nestle, scientists and NGOs, and particularly, those of British naturalist Sir David Atten­bo­rough.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper had published an article headlining Attenborough’s concerns over the bridge that would span 350m across the river, threatening one of the last sanctuaries of the rare Bornean pygmy elephant.

“If I may say so, that headline broke the camel’s back. It made us understand that the issue is now the number one environmental concern – not just in Sabah but globally, too, because of the extremely precarious situation of the rich wildlife,” Mannan told the audience.

David Attenborough’s ‘Guardian headline’ halts Borneo bridge
Conservationist denounced Sukau project as a threat to pygmy elephants and orangutans
Jeremy Hance The Guardian 21 Apr 17;

Officials in Borneo have cancelled plans to build a bridge across the Kinabatangan river, after warnings from Sir David Attenborough and other conservationists that it would gravely endanger pygmy elephants, orangutans and many other jungle species. The news comes just weeks after the Guardian revealed Attenborough’s opposition to the project.

Attenborough originally sent a private letter to the chief minister of the state of Sabah, Musa Aman, in September 2016. Last month, with signs pointing to the bridge still going ahead, the Guardian published excerpts from the letter. The authorities in Borneo have described Attenborough’s now-public opposition as the final blow to the project.

“I am immensely pleased to hear that plans to build a bridge at Sukau have been cancelled,” said Attenborough, who is a patron of the World Land Trust, which has saved forest in the Kinabatangan area. “This region is recognised worldwide as being a vital enclave for threatened wildlife, and it is indeed good news that the safe passage of orangutans, pygmy elephants and other endangered wildlife will not be threatened by the bridge and all that would have come with it. The decision will [also benefit] the local people who welcome visitors who come to see the wonderful biodiversity of their forests.”

Datuk Sam Mannan, Sabah Forestry Department’s chief conservator, announced the state government’s decision on 19 April at a dinner in London held by the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership. “That headline broke the camel’s back,” Mannan said of the Guardian’s coverage. “It made us understand that the issue of a proposed bridge across a protected area for wildlife is now the number one environmental concern not just in Sabah, but globally too.”

The bridge would have spanned 350m, linking the village of Sukau with Litang and Tommanggong. While many locals supported it as a means to improve travel in the region, conservationists feared it would further imperil wildlife. Sukau is adjacent to the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a popular eco-tourism site. Attenborough himself has visited the region several times.

Over the years the sanctuary has been hemmed in by spreading palm oil plantations, which have fragmented forests and blocked migratory routes for wildlife. Bornean elephants – the world’s smallest – are considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with a global population of only around 1,500. Bornean orangutans are listed as critically endangered. As they have lost their habitat, both species have seen increased run-ins with humans, including poachings and poisonings.

The conservationist and wildlife presenter Steve Backshall, who also attacked the bridge plans, described the Kinabatangan forest as “one of the single most important pieces of rainforest on Earth”.

Last weekend, Backshall and his wife, Olympic champion rower Helen Glover, kayaked 125 miles along the Thames to raise funds for the World Land Trust’s work in the area.

“It’s a narrow wildlife corridor, allowing dispersal of a myriad of species big and small,” Blackshall said. “Fragmenting of this habitat – already beleaguered by ever-encroaching plantations – would be catastrophic. The decision to halt the Sukau bridge is a reason for great celebration.”

Experts have said there are alternatives to the bridge, including building further downstream or improving existing infrastructure.

“The chief minister of Sabah has taken everyone’s views into consideration – including Sir David’s – before deciding on this very important issue, and I am pleased to say that balanced development has prevailed,” Mannan said.

Sabah gets thumbs up from conservationists for cancelling Kinabatangan bridge plan
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 25 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s decision to scrap the construction of a bridge in Sukau across the Kinabatangan river has earned kudos from international organisations that supported conservation works in the state.

Abraham Foundation president Nancy Abraham felt encouraged by the strong commitment shown by the state government in protecting habitats, especially in the Kinabatangan landscape that wildlife such as elephants and orang utans called home.

“I want to express gratitude to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman and other visionary leaders from Sabah for making the courageous decision to cancel the proposed bridge that would have further divided the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

“Know that the entire world applauds your decision and salutes Sabah as a true leader in the conservation of our natural world,” Abraham who represented the US-based nonprofit organisation said in a statement.

Shared Earth Foundation chief executive officer and president Caroline Gabel said efforts should be focused on creating connectivity for wildlife in the fragmented sanctuary, a move that will also benefit local communities and other stakeholders, including from the agriculture and tourism sectors.

“In the world’s rapidly dwindling space for animals and their habitat, the Sabah government has stood strong against the trends, declaring that along the Kinabatangan river, all species including but not limited to humans, have a right to live and thrive,” said Gabel.

Both representatives were on the Board of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) organisation, had written to Musa in August last year expressing their concerns that a public bridge would lead to problems rather than help strengthen the integrity of the Lower Kinabatangan.

Woodtiger Fund president and co-founder Susan Wallace said it was a wise decision and one that would lead to long term benefits for both people and wildlife.

“Sabah is very fortunate to possess such magnificent natural beauty.

“I deeply respect the bold leaders for their commitment to conserve and protect Sabah’s rich biodiversity for future generations and, importantly, for the sake of the wildlife itself.

“It is a noble, visionary, and enduring deed. Sabah has demonstrated that it is a conservation model for the world,” Susan said.

Read more!

Coral reefs cannot grow fast enough to keep pace with rising sea levels, finds study

Sea floor is getting lower as erosion gets worse
Ian Johnston The Independent 21 Apt 17;

Coral reefs are failing to keep pace with rising sea levels, increasing the depth of the sea and removing a natural form of storm defence, according to a new study.

Researchers were stunned by the amount of reef lost due to erosion at sites in the Pacific off Hawaii, Florida’s Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean, saying it had resulted in water depths not predicted to occur until 2100.

They said it was evidence that an “Anthropocene reef crisis” had begun.

Corals are facing an array of problems from bleaching caused by the rising temperatures and ocean acidification to dredging and pollution from the land.

The iconic Great Barrier Reef has been so badly affected that one leading environmental writer was moved to write its obituary.

In the new study, researchers examined two sites in the Florida Keys, two in the US Virgin Islands and also the waters around the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The sea floor was found to be lower at all five sites by anything from nine to 80 centimetres.

All five reefs had lost large amounts of coral, sand and other sea floor materials to erosion.

Dr Kimberly Yates, of the US Geological Survey, said: “Our measurements show that seafloor erosion has already caused water depths to increase to levels not predicted to occur until near the year 2100.

“At current rates, by 2100 sea floor erosion could increase water depths by two to eight times more than what has been predicted from sea level rise alone.”

Writing in the journal Biogeosciences, the researchers warned that the deeper water would increase coastal erosion, storm surges and tsunami hazards.

“The magnitude of reef volume lost due to erosion provides evidence for the onset of an Anthropocene reef crisis similar to ancient reef crises caused by climate change and marked in the geologic record by regional and global declines in reef volume,” they added.

John Haines, also of the USGS, said the economic and ecological importance of coral reefs had long been recognised.

“This study tells us that they have a critical role in building and sustaining the physical structure of the coastal seafloor, which supports healthy ecosystems and protects coastal communities,” he said.

“These important ecosystem services may be lost by the end of this century, and nearby communities may need to find ways to compensate for these losses.”

More than 200 million people around the world live in coastal areas protected by coral reefs from waves, storms and erosion.

They also provide about a quarter of the fish harvests in tropical areas.

Coral reefs struggle to keep up with rising seas, leave coastal communities at risk
European Geosciences Union ScienceDaily 20 Apr 17;

In the first ecosystem-wide study of changing sea depths at five large coral reef tracts in Florida, the Caribbean and Hawai'i, researchers found the sea floor is eroding in all five places, and the reefs cannot keep pace with sea level rise. As a result, coastal communities protected by the reefs are facing increased risks from storms, waves and erosion.

In the first ecosystem-wide study of changing sea depths at five large coral reef tracts in Florida, the Caribbean and Hawai'i, researchers found the sea floor is eroding in all five places, and the reefs cannot keep pace with sea level rise. As a result, coastal communities protected by the reefs are facing increased risks from storms, waves and erosion. The study, by the US Geological Survey (USGS), is published today in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

At two sites in the Florida Keys, two in the US Virgin Islands, and in waters surrounding the Hawaiian island of Maui, coral reef degradation has caused sea floor depths to increase and sand and other sea floor materials to erode over the past few decades, the Biogeosciences study found. In the waters around Maui, the sea floor losses amounted to 81 million cubic meters of sand, rock and other material -- about what it would take to fill up the Empire State Building 81 times, or an Olympic swimming pool about 32,000 times, the USGS researchers calculated.

As sea levels rise worldwide due to climate change, each of these ecologically and economically important reef ecosystems is projected to be affected by increasing water depths. The question of whether coral colonies can grow fast enough to keep up with rising seas is the subject of intense scientific research.

But the USGS study, published on April 20, 2017 in the journal Biogeosciences, found the combined effect of rising seas and sea floor erosion has already increased water depths more than what most scientists expected to occur many decades from now. Other studies that do not factor in sea floor erosion have predicted seas will rise by between 0.5 and 1 metre by 2100.

"Our measurements show that seafloor erosion has already caused water depths to increase to levels not predicted to occur until near the year 2100," said biogeochemist Kimberly Yates of the USGS' St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, the study's lead author. "At current rates, by 2100 sea floor erosion could increase water depths by two to eight times more than what has been predicted from sea level rise alone."

The study did not determine specific causes for the sea floor erosion in these coral reef ecosystems. But the authors pointed out that coral reefs worldwide are declining due to a combination of forces, including natural processes, coastal development, overfishing, pollution, coral bleaching, diseases and ocean acidification (a change in seawater chemistry linked to the oceans' absorption of more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere).

For each of the five coral reef ecosystems, the team gathered detailed sea floor measurements from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration taken between 1934 and 1982, and also used surveys done from the late 1990s to the 2000s by the USGS Lidar Program and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Until about the 1960s sea floor measurements were done by hand, using lead-weighted lines or sounding poles with depth markings. From approximately the 1960s on, most measurements were based on the time it takes an acoustic pulse to reach the sea floor and return. The USGS researchers converted the old measurements to a format comparable with recent lidar data.

They compared the old and new sets of measurements to find the mean elevation changes at each site. The method has been used by the US Army Corps of Engineers to track other kinds of sea floor changes, such as shifts in shipping channels. This is the first time it has been applied to whole coral reef ecosystems. Next the researchers developed a computer model that used the elevation changes to calculate the volume of sea floor material lost.

They found that, overall, sea floor elevation has decreased at all five sites, in amounts ranging from 0.09 metres to 0.8 metres. All five reef tracts also lost large amounts of coral, sand, and other sea floor materials to erosion.

"We saw lower rates of erosion -- and even some localised increases in seafloor elevation -- in areas that were protected, near refuges, or distant from human population centers," Yates said. "But these were not significant enough to offset the ecosystem-wide pattern of erosion at each of our study sites."

Worldwide, more than 200 million people live in coastal communities protected by coral reefs, which serve as natural barriers against storms, waves and erosion. These ecosystems also support jobs, provide about one-quarter of all fish harvests in the tropical oceans, and are important recreation and tourism sites.

"Coral reef systems have long been recognised for their important economic and ecological value," said John Haines, Program Coordinator of the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program. "This study tells us that they have a critical role in building and sustaining the physical structure of the coastal seafloor, which supports healthy ecosystems and protects coastal communities. These important ecosystem services may be lost by the end of this century, and nearby communities may need to find ways to compensate for these losses."

The study brought together ecosystem scientists and coastal engineers, who plan to use the results to assess the risks to coastal communities that rely on coral reefs for protection from storms and other hazards.

Kimberly K. Yates, David G. Zawada, Nathan A. Smiley, Ginger Tiling-Range. Divergence of seafloor elevation and sea level rise in coral reef ecosystems. Biogeosciences, 2017; 14 (6): 1739 DOI: 10.5194/bg-14-1739-2017

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What the trials of migratory birds say about Asia’s development

Exterminate first, ask questions later
The Economist 20 Apr 17;

KATHERINE LEUNG was hunting for birds—black-tailed godwits to be precise. Armed with a wide net, she stood at dusk amid the Mai Po Marshes, a wide expanse of mudflats, mangroves and shrimp ponds on Hong Kong’s border with mainland China, trying to nab a couple of birds as they came to roost after feeding. In her pocket were two tiny and expensive radio transmitters. An employee of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which manages Mai Po, she was hoping to affix them to the backs of two godwits heading north for the summer. By the time she gave up, at midnight, she had not caught any godwits, but she had snared three gorgeous greater painted snipe. She had also spotted an eagle owl out hunting and a leopard cat prowling nearby. She will be hunting herself again soon, as the godwits’ twice-yearly transit reaches its peak.

Astonishingly little is known about the godwits that arrive at Mai Po in full breeding plumage at this time of year—neither where exactly in the warmer parts of Asia they have wintered nor where, in the far north, they will breed. Most of the world’s migratory waterbirds barrel up and down one of eight big north-south “flyways”. The East Asian-Australasian Flyway, along which Mai Po is located, is the most rich in species. This spring 50m waterbirds will move from their winter homes in South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand to their breeding grounds in Russia, Mongolia, northern China, the Korean peninsula, Japan and even Alaska. They rely on intertidal flats like those at Mai Po, teeming with nourishing molluscs, worms and crustaceans, as well as plants, to supply the food that fuels their journeys.

Of the eight big flyways, the East Asian-Australasian is also the one displaying the sharpest decline in the number of birds. Of its 155-odd waterbird species, at least 24 are now globally threatened. They include the diminutive spoon-billed sandpiper, a wader whose numbers are down to fewer than 200 pairs.

Transiting one of the world’s most dynamic industrial regions is clearly taking a toll. Asia’s migratory waterbirds face immense pressures, from hunting, pollution, ingested plastic and competition from aquaculture. But the biggest disaster is the destruction of coastal way-stations like Mai Po. Since 1950 China has lost over half its coastal wetlands to “reclamation”. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Yellow sea, into which the Yellow river flows, has lost over 35% of intertidal habitat since the early 1980s. An especially destructive moment was the run-up to the Beijing Olympics of 2008, for which a lot of heavy industry was moved from the capital to the coast.

Xianji Wen, who, like Ms Leung, works for the WWF, describes the Yellow sea as a “bottleneck” for the whole flyway: so many waders pass through it that the loss of habitat there is particularly consequential. Four-fifths of Asia’s red knots, having wintered in Australasia, stop on their way north at one spot, Luannan, east of Beijing. The bar-tailed godwit flies non-stop from New Zealand to the Yellow sea—over 6,000km. After recovering there, the species flies non-stop again to its breeding grounds in the extreme north of Russia.

Populations of both species have crashed by over a third, probably because of coastal development. On the eastern side of the Yellow sea in South Korea, a huge reclamation scheme involving the world’s longest dyke destroyed Saemangeum, a 400 square kilometre tidal estuary. The 330,000 shorebirds that used to use the area did not move to other staging sites—there is a limit to how many birds even rich mudflats can support. Most simply died. In 2010 the IUCN reclassified the great knot from a species of “least concern” to “vulnerable”, thanks largely to that dyke. It might also prove the death knell of the spoon-billed sandpiper. The reclamation scheme, meanwhile, is doing far less for the local economy than its backers promised it would.

There is a silver lining, however. The vast middle class created by the region’s breakneck growth is becoming interested in conservation. Hong Kong has long had plenty of birdwatchers, and schoolchildren throng Mai Po’s education centre. In Taiwan a conservation movement was spawned by another critically endangered species, the black-faced spoonbill. In the 1980s its numbers fell to fewer than 300. It bred on a few islands at the western end of the Korean peninsula’s demilitarised zone and wintered at three sites: Mai Po, the Red river delta in Vietnam and Chiku in Taiwan. Taiwanese bird lovers first secured an end to hunting at Chiku and then, in 2000, fought off plans for a steel refinery. The spoonbill population has since grown to around 3,800—proof that it is possible to rescue species from the verge of extinction.

Binoculars to the rescue

In China several hundred birdwatchers gather for the spring migration by the Yellow Sea near the North Korean border. And Mr Wen says that local governments in China increasingly take pride in the acclaim they win for conservation schemes—several work with the WWF. A year ago China and New Zealand even signed an agreement—an “air bridge” between the two countries—to protect the habitat of the bar-tailed godwits, whose annual departure, Maori mythology holds, is for the homeland of the ancestors who first colonised New Zealand.

South Korea’s conservation movement is feeble. But the government of North Korea, by failing to develop the country, has inadvertently preserved a greater share of valuable waterbird habitats. It recently agreed to designate one as a protected site under the “Ramsar” international convention on wetlands—a rare instance of North Korea being drawn into international co-operation. Some even hope this innocuous step may prove habit-forming, paving the way for co-operation on trickier issues. After all, 30 years ago, Chinese and Russian conservationists helped thaw frosty relations between their two countries. Asia’s beleaguered waterbirds might be diplomatic as well as zoological treasures.

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