Best of our wild blogs: 22-23 Jun 17

Successful breeding of Yellow-bellied Prinia
Singapore Bird Group

Restoration of shattered coral reef at Raja Ampat on hold

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The $100 Billion City Next to Singapore Has a Big China Problem

Beijing's capital controls are spooking some property buyers
Bloomberg News 23 Jun 17;

Construction continues on reclaimed land at Country Garden's "Forest City", with Singapore in the background.PHOTOGRAPHER: ORE HUIYING/BLOOMBERG

The $100 billion city rising from the sea next to Singapore has hit a roadblock: China’s capital controls.

The dream of a Malaysian version of Shenzhen — largely funded by Chinese developers and buyers — with hotels, offices, golf courses, tech parks and thousands of ritzy new apartments, is having to adapt after China’s government clamped down on an exodus of money for investment in overseas property.

Developers’ sales offices in China that once brought in buyers by the hundreds are now pushing developments in Chinese cities. Subsidized junkets that flew in prospective buyers to development sites in the southern Malaysian state of Johor have dwindled. And some buyers who paid deposits for yet-to-be-built homes are considering canceling their purchases.

“I feel I’m on the horns of a dilemma,” said Michelle Gao, who paid about 600,000 yuan ($87,825) toward the 1.2 million yuan cost of a two-bedroom apartment at Country Garden Holdings Co.’s vast Forest City development. “If the project relies so much on Chinese buyers like me, how on earth are they able to sell in future? Will the construction ever finish?”

The crackdown on outflows of money from China has spooked some buyers. While Chinese citizens are allowed an annual foreign exchange quota of $50,000, the government said in December that all buyers of foreign exchange must sign a pledge that they won’t use their quotas for offshore property investment. Violators would be added to a watch list, denied access to foreign currency for three years and be subject to a money-laundering investigation.

The restriction threatens to take the wind out of residential property sales in cities around the world where prices have been driven in the past few years by buyers from China. Few projects are likely to be affected as much as the Chinese-financed developments in Johor, some of which had relied on mainland customers for as much as 90 percent of sales.

Six Chinese buyers interviewed for this story said they paid a 10 percent down-payment to Country Garden in showrooms in China by swiping debit or credit cards or using payment services like Alipay. They said the property agents are now telling them they need to go to Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau to swipe their cards to pay the balance of installments, or wire funds to Country Garden’s overseas accounts.

Many are worried that would still make them liable under China’s foreign exchange rules. This month, the Chinese government said domestic banks will have to provide daily reports of clients’ overseas transactions of more than 1,000 yuan.
“I was told it can still be done from Hong Kong, but I’m just scared now,” said buyer Elaine Xiao. “I don’t know what punishment I may get.”
Country Garden said the controls have not had a material effect on sales and construction at Forest City is continuing. It has completed a luxury hotel and handed over the first batch of 132 apartments on May 1.

The Johor developments stem from Iskandar Malaysia, a government effort to leverage Singapore’s success by building a new metropolis near the causeway that connects the island state to the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru. When the 20-year project was announced in 2006, it envisaged a total investment of 383 billion ringgit ($87 billion) and much of the early investment came from Singapore.

But then Chinese developers like Country Garden and Greenland Holdings Group Co. moved in with projects that dwarfed those of their Malaysian and Singaporean rivals. Country Garden’s “Forest City” alone called for a $100 billion high-rise town to be built on artificial islands within a few hundred yards of Singapore.

The projects were marketed in China, and thousands paid deposits for apartments that cost as much as double the rate per square meter of homes for Malaysian buyers in Johor Bahru.

A buyer whose family name is Yu said she doesn’t intend to pay the next installment on her apartment when it comes due this month. She said her agent advised her to swipe her credit card in Hong Kong to get around the rules. “I asked the sales agent will you take responsibility when I’m blacklisted in China?”

Yu, from Guangzhou, put down a deposit on a 1.2 million yuan, 59-square-meter apartment in Phase III of the project while visiting the vast landscaped sales gallery at the construction site in December. She’s among those now considering walking away from the agreement because of concern about breaking the rules.

Country Garden announced on June 20 it would proceed with stage 2 of the Forest City development, a $280 million plan that includes golf courses, an international school and another hotel. The developer said in April it was in discussion with fewer than 60 Chinese buyers who indicated their intention to cancel bookings. The company said it sold 16,000 residential units in Forest City last year.

Country Garden said earlier it had stopped marketing Forest City in its sales galleries in China and ceased organizing tours to its Johor projects for would-be buyers. Its agents in China are pushing domestic projects in the country’s tropical southern resort of Sanya and the seaside city of Beihai.

The developer said it has opened Forest City showrooms in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, and plans to open more this year in Vietnam, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Dubai, the Philippines and Laos.

Construction at Greenland’s Jade Palace development was suspended in November while the company considered revising the project density to build more, but smaller apartments, according to a sales agent with knowledge of the project. No construction work was going on during a weekday visit to the site in May.

In a response to written questions, Greenland said on June 3 that construction had not stopped and that the design of the apartments will be optimized pending feedback from previous buyers. It declined to give sales figures, but said it is looking for more buyers outside China.

Samuel Tan, executive director at KGV International Property Consultants, said approvals for all new serviced apartments in Johor have been frozen since 2014 and existing projects were introducing more affordable properties at around 600,000 ringgit instead of 800,000 to 1 million ringgit.

“Given the oversupply, we don’t foresee any recovery until 2019 for high-rise projects,” Tan said. He said China’s capital controls were only significant to the Chinese-owned projects.

The glut of properties being built in Johor has also affected local developers, Petaling Jaya-based Tropicana Corp. is giving a 25 percent rebate on the list price of homes they are marketing an interest-free, 36-month deferred payment plan.

Resale asking prices of properties in Johor have dropped 2 percent in the past two years, according to real estate listings website

Yu, the buyer from Guangzhou, worries that the thousands of apartments still to be built at Forest City will be hard to sell without Chinese buyers.

“My home is still in the ocean,” Yu said. “Locals will not buy homes with prices double the local rate. Without enough residents from China, everything will change.”

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Sun Electric wins tender to install solar panels on JTC buildings

JTC CEO Png Cheong Boon says its SolarRoof initiative can "overcome" some of the challenges faced by the local solar market.
Nicole Tan Channel NewsAsia 21 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE: Government agency JTC on Wednesday (Jun 21) announced it has awarded Sun Electric the first tender under its SolarRoof initiative to boost the generation of solar energy in Singapore.

The 15-year contract with Singapore-based Sun Electric will allow the latter to install solar panels on the rooftops of 27 JTC buildings, which will in turn generate more than 5 megawatt-peak (MWp) of electricity that can be fully exported to the national power grid and sold on the open energy market.

The solar energy company will pay JTC a monthly rental for up to 43,000 sq m of rooftop space - the size of about four football fields, the agency said.

JTC claimed its SolarRoof business model will address limitations of intermittent power supply, as the solar-generated power will be fully exported to the grid, and consumers will be receiving a stable, constant supply from the grid.

With existing models, JTC said consumers that install their own solar panels and depend directly on power generated from these panels would have to alter their infrastructure to manage the intermittent nature of the power supply.

JTC CEO Png Cheong Boon said the SolarRoof model can "overcome" some of the challenges faced by the local solar market, such as roof constraints and high capital costs. With it, he hoped to optimise the roof space under its stable of real estate developments and provide more sustainable energy options to its customers.

Sun Electric is expected to install the solar panels over the coming year and start selling solar-generated power by mid-2018, JTC added.

Singapore's solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has tripled over the last three years, reaching 129.8 MWp in the first quarter of 2017, according to the Energy Market Authority.

JTC awards contract under new solar leasing model
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 22 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE — In a move aimed at encouraging more building owners to install rooftop solar panels, JTC yesterday awarded a contract that will allow the solar energy generated at 27 of its buildings to be fully exported to the national power grid.

The new solar leasing model offers greater flexibility to building owners, who can make money from unused space on their rooftops even if the occupants of the properties do not tap the renewable resource. This is a departure from existing leasing models in Singapore, which may be more suited for building owners that want to generate solar energy for their own use, said industrial landlord JTC.

Under the existing models, excess solar power may be channelled to the grid. Under the 15-year contract with clean energy firm Sun Electric, worth about S$2.7 million, JTC will charge the firm monthly rentals for rooftop spaces that are pegged to market prices of electricity.

Sun Electric will supply, install and maintain the solar panels, which will generate up to 5 megawatt-peak (MWp) of electricity and be ready within a year. It will own all the power generated by the solar panels, which will occupy 43,000 sqm, about the size of six football fields.

The occupants of JTC’s 27 buildings involved — which include those in Biopolis and JTC’s Launch Pad@one-north — may continue buying electricity from their existing suppliers.

The power from solar panels can be sold by Sun Electric to larger users elsewhere, such as businesses that want to adopt clean energy but whose buildings do not have roof space.

Under the contract, JTC may include more of its properties, such as the future JTC FoodHub @ Senoko for solar-panel installation. JTC may also call a new tender if it feels the market in future has matured, with more players able to support such a solar leasing model.

The new model overcomes obstacles that lessees had raised in previous discussions with JTC. They said solar power supply was intermittent in nature and could not be used for key manufacturing operations without substantial alterations to infrastructure. Their property leases may be shorter than the solar contract period, and power generated during non-operating hours would be wasted.

The cost of electricity from traditional energy sources has also been low, said Mr Mark Koh, JTC’s director of facilities and estate management.

Under the new leasing model, solar energy users do not need to change their infrastructure and may enjoy discounted solar power. Solar-generation companies no longer need to limit their customers to the building owners and occupants that their solar panels sit atop.

Sun Electric chief executive Matthew Peloso said its platform, called SolarSpace, allows buildings to sign up and sell power to any electricity consumer connected on the national power grid. “Today, a number of Reits (real estate investment trusts) see the benefit in this programme, and we are developing solar-power projects on industrial rooftops from Changi to Tuas,” he said.

Sun Electric’s electricity prices are typically 10 to 20 per cent lower than the tariff rate in Singapore, added Dr Peloso.

JTC chief executive Png Cheong Boon said: “By leading the way with this new ... model, we also hope to encourage more solar installations in Singapore, since building owners will now be able to generate revenue from the use of their roof space, regardless of their own energy demands.”

Singapore’s solar energy deployment is now about 130MWp, and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said this month that the plan is to have more than 1 gigawatt-peak after 2020, which will represent about 15 per cent of electrical power demand at peak during the day.

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Two new Zika cases at Kensington Park Drive at Serangoon

Today Online 21 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE — A new Zika cluster has been discovered at Kensington Park Drive at Serangoon, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said Wednesday (June 21).

Both cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection are residents in the vicinity.

The latest cluster is bordered by Serangoon North Avenue 1, Kensington Park Drive, and Worthing Road, with the Kensington Park Condominium at the heart of the cluster.

It is also about 1km from the previous clusters across Yio Chu Kang Road around Parry Avenue, the Glasgow Road area, and Poh Huat Road.

Residents in the cluster were notified on Wednesday, and NEA has commenced vector control operations at the cluster area.

Outreach efforts by its officers and grassroots volunteers will commence in the vicinity of Kensington Park Drive, NEA added.

Residents are advised to apply insect repellent as a precaution, and to allow NEA officers to carry out inspections and indoor spraying of their homes.

According to NEA's website, the previous Zika cluster was at Parry Avenue, reported on June 9.

The latest cases bring the total number of Zika cases in Singapore to 39 for 2017.

New Zika cluster at Kensington Park Drive
Channel NewsAsia 21 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE: Two new cases of locally transmitted Zika have been confirmed at Kensington Park Drive at Serangoon Gardens, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Wednesday (Jun 21). Both cases involve residents in the vicinity.

This new cluster was notified on Wednesday, and NEA has commenced vector control operations at the cluster area.

"Residents and stakeholders are urged to maintain vigilance and continue to eliminate mosquito breeding habitats, as there could be asymptomatic or mild, undiagnosed cases which might result in further transmission of the virus if there are mosquitoes in the vicinity," NEA said.

NEA urged residents in the area to allow its officers to carry out inspections of their homes, and advised them to apply insect repellent as a precaution.

"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," the agency added.


As of Wednesday, Kensington Park Drive is the only Zika cluster in Singapore. The Parry Avenue cluster, which was announced on Jun 9, is now closed and under surveillance.

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Woman fined for abandoning pet cat

Channel NewsAsia 21 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE: A 23-year-old woman was on Wednesday (Jun 21) fined S$2,500 in court for abandoning her pet cat at a staircase landing.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said in a media release that it was alerted to the incident on Jan 10 after a member of the public found the cat at a staircase landing along Canberra Road. Details of the owner were on the carrier next to the cat.

Upon questioning, the owner of the cat, Illya Natassia Abdul Manaf, admitted to abandoning it after a "family conflict", AVA said.

The cat was cared for by a fosterer while investigations were underway, and has been successfully rehomed with the help of an animal welfare group, AVA said.

"AVA takes a stern view on pet abandonment. We investigate all feedback on pet abandonment and will take enforcement action, where necessary. Individuals who abandon their pets are liable to a maximum fine of S$10,000 and/or 12 months' jail for first convictions," the authority added.

It also urged members of the public to report cases of pet abandonment by calling its 24-hour hotline at 1800-476-1600, or submitting tip-offs via its website.

Woman gets S$2,500 penalty for abandoning cat
Today Online 22 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE — A 23-year-old woman was fined S$2,500 on Wednesday (June 21) after she was found guilty of abandoning her pet cat at Canberra Road, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said.

On Jan 10, a member of the public found the abandoned cat and alerted the AVA. Also found nearby was a pet carrier which had the personal details of the accused, Illya Natassia Abdul Manaf.

She was taken in for questioning, and lllya Natassia admitted to abandoning her cat after a family conflict.

The cat was subsequently rehomed with the help of an animal welfare group.

“The AVA takes a stern view on pet abandonment. We investigate all feedback on pet abandonment and will take enforcement action, where necessary,” the authority said. First-time offenders found guilty of abandoning their pets could be jailed up to a year or fined up to S$10,000, or both.

“Safeguarding animal welfare is a shared social responsibility requiring the cooperation of all stakeholders, including the public,” said the AVA.

“While the AVA continues to ensure that the necessary enforcement action is taken and to raise awareness on animal welfare, members of the public can play their part by being vigilant,” it added.

Members of the public can report cases of pet abandonment to the AVA via its 24-hour hotline, 1800-476-1600 or its website

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APP mill can produce far more than expected, stoking worries

Green groups fear firm will break promise not to cut down natural forests to supply new mill
Audrey Tan Straits Times 23 Jun 17;

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the Indonesian firms blamed for the record-breaking haze in 2015, is facing fresh allegations over its lack of transparency, this time over its newly operational mill in Indonesia's South Sumatra province.

A document obtained this month by The Straits Times showed that the mill in South Sumatra's Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) district has the option to produce far more than APP had given the impression that it can - causing environmental groups to worry that the company would have to cut down natural forests to feed the mill's appetite.

The government licence, issued by Indonesia's Capital Investment Coordination Agency (BKPM), showed that the mill had approval to produce up to 3.25 million tonnes of pulp a year.

BKPM media relations officer Iwan Ungsi confirmed that the document was an approval licence which allowed pulp production capacity at APP's OKI mill to go up from 2 million tonnes to 2.5 million tonnes. Existing legislation in Indonesia also allows companies to produce up to 30 per cent more than the amount stated in their licences without the need for further approvals, which means that the APP mill can produce up to 3.25 million tonnes of pulp annually.

APP had applied for and been given the licence in December 2015.

But as recently as in February this year, during a media visit to the mill, APP told The Straits Times that "the initial production licence for the OKI mill... and an approval from the Environment Impact Analysis licence granted production of 2 million tonnes of pulp annually".

On why APP's recent communications did not reflect the updated figure, an APP spokesman said: "The initial production licence for the OKI mill which was issued by BKPM in June 2012 and accompanied by an approved Environmental Impact Analysis licence was granted... for the production of 2 million tonnes of pulp annually, with the option of seeking further permits for increasing production in the future. This was why the 2 million figure was used as that was the initial production licence that the government granted."

With an output of 2 million tonnes of pulp a year, enough wood could be sourced from its plantations to feed the mill, APP said.

But Mr Aidil Fitri from Indonesian environmental group Hutan Kita Institute said: "I think APP has not been transparent about the mill's capacities."

It is not the first time that APP has faced accusations over its lack of transparency.

In March this year, Singapore's National Environment Agency, which is investigating firms believed to be responsible for the haze under the Republic's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, said APP had not provided investigators with enough information.

The Singapore Environment Council had also, in the wake of the 2015 crisis, revoked APP's use of its eco-label, which resulted in its products being pulled from supermarket shelves here.


Environmental groups worry that APP will renege on its no deforestation policy, now that it has emerged its mill can legally produce much more than it has given the impression that it can.

This is especially as APP had applied for the licence in December 2015 - after the catastrophic fires earlier that year that razed many of its plantations, and caused the intense haze. The Indonesian government had forbidden firms from replanting on burnt peats after the crisis, reducing the amount of land for planting pulpwood.

An analysis by a group of Indonesian environmental organisations showed that the 2015 fires had burnt an estimated 86,000ha of planted acacia within the OKI mill's supply areas in South Sumatra - accounting for 26 per cent of APP's total planted area in the province.

Mr Bas Tinhout, technical officer for climate-smart land use at environmental group Wetlands International, said: "The demand for raw material will present a very high plantation fibre shortage... What APP will do is speculation but will APP default on its zero-deforestation commitment?"

APP said the 2015 fires were unfortunate, and that its concessions in South Sumatra were affected. "But we have suppliers elsewhere who also supply to OKI mill," said APP's spokesman. In all, the mill will acquire raw materials from two regions in South Sumatra, with a total concession area of 808,000ha. The mill also has support from other sources or suppliers in Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan and South Sumatra, with a total of 42 suppliers, said the spokesman.


APP said the OKI mill's maximum output capacity currently is 2.8 million tonnes of pulp a year.

But environmental groups pointed out that the machinery may be upgradeable to produce more.

Hutan Kita Institute's Mr Fitri said: "In 2013, it was indicated in an environmental impact assessment report that the mill will have capacity of about 2 million tonnes of pulp a year. Later, the director of OKI Mill said they will produce 2.8 million tonnes of pulp a year. But trade reports have also said that the OKI mill machinery is upgradeable to 3.2 million tonnes of pulp a year."

Mr Aditya Bayunanda, director of policy sustainability and transformation at WWF-Indonesia, said: "The licence that allows such a huge capacity without ensuring that they have enough fibre supply makes us very concerned," he said.

Pressed on whether APP plans to upgrade its machinery beyond the 2.8 million tonnes capacity, its spokesman said: "The mill currently has no intention of expanding output beyond what the licence allows for."

He added that production levels have been at a low level since operations started last year, and this year, the mill is expected to produce 1.7 million tonnes of pulp. "Output (will) increase at a gradual pace subject to demand and availability of raw materials from APP's suppliers, who are bound by our Forest Conservation Policy commitments. Put simply, we are not seeking to achieve maximum output in the shortest period of time," he said.

Mr Bayunanda said there was a "dire need" for independent checks, now that it has been revealed the OKI mill can legally produce much more than what was communicated.

"There is widespread scepticism by civil society about the limits of their plantation supply. This has heightened our deep concern that APP may go back to sourcing natural forest timber to make up for the timber shortage to feed their mill.

"Reliable and truly independent verification of wood supply is the only way we can ensure that this will not happen, but the company has not implemented any such measures to date."

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Malaysian caught smuggling exotic animals

The Star 23 Jun 17;

BANGKOK: Thai wildlife officers have arrested a Malaysian man attempting to smuggle two baby orang utan, 51 tortoises and six raccoons into the kingdom across its southern border.

The animals were packed into plastic boxes and suitcases loaded into the man’s car, officials said on Thursday.

The 63-year-old was stopped Wednesday as he was attempting to drive through a border checkpoint in Thailand’s southern Songkhla province.

“The suspect said he was hired to transport the animals from (neighbouring) Perlis state in Malaysia to Hatyai (in Thailand) for 1,000 baht (RM127),” said Prach Kongthong, a wildlife officer manning the checkpoint.

The two tiny orang utan were less than six months old and will be transferred to a local shelter, he added.

Orang utan are native to Borneo and Sumatra but they are often illegally smuggled throughout mainland South-East Asia, either for private zoos or as pets.

Most of the 51 rescued reptiles were Indian star tortoises – an endangered species from South Asia coveted for its star-patterned shell.

Thailand has long served as a transit hub for wildlife products bound for major markets like Vietnam and China, where exotic animal parts are often used in folk medicine.

Thai police frequently seize trafficked animals and wildlife products but they usually only catch low-level couriers, leaving the kingpins behind the lucrative trade at large.

In December, Thai police rescued two baby orang utan in a sting operation that saw undercover officers pose as buyers over a smartphone messaging app. — AFP

Perlis Aksem to get details on Malaysian caught for wildlife smuggling in Thailand
ILI SHAZWANI New Straits Times 22 Jun 17;

KANGAR: Perlis National Border Security Agency (Aksem) is checking further into how the baby orang-utans, tortoises and raccoons managed to be slipped out of the country to Thailand recently.

Its commander Syed Basri Syed Ali said the agency will obtain more details on the smuggling of the wildlife and arrest of a 63-year-old Malaysian who was alleged to have transported the animals from Perlis to Hatyai yesterday.

“We will get more information on the incident from our counterpart in Thailand and at the same time work out ways to prevent the incident from recurring in the future.

“If the suspect’s account was true that he was hired to transport the two baby orang-utans, 51 tortoises and six racoons from Perlis to Hatyai, Thailand for 1,000 baht (RM126), we will investigate what was the modus operandi he used,” he said when contacted today.

Syed Basri dismissed the possibilities that the animals, which were found packed into plastic boxes and suitcases in the suspect’s car, were sneaked out via rat lanes in Wang Kelian or Padang Besar.

He said based his observation on the topography of the rat lanes, the terrain was too tough to be accessed by car.

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Malaysia: Protecting Taman Negara

HIDIR REDUAN New Straits Times 22 Jun 17;

ECOTOURISM. The word evokes the lush imagery of riding a slow moving boat, wafting down a clear river as sparkling green canopies of forest frame the riverbanks.

It is the noble endeavour of combining the money-generating activity of catching tourists’ eyes to come and trundle through ancient tropical jungles to witness state-sponsored efforts to safeguard ecology through sustainable practices.

What happens though if a well-informed tourist were to catch sight of balding formerly forested landscapes as he is ushered towards an ecotourist attraction?

This notion was brought to the forefront by environmental activists in relation to Taman Negara, the sprawling 2,477km park that straddles three states: Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.

A president of a local environmental group did not mince words in claiming that signs of logging left and right on the route to and near the entrance to the nature park in Jerantut could turn off future tourists from coming.

The former chief news editor of a television network expressed worry that well-informed tourists, especially those from advanced countries, would not only no longer return to Taman Negara, but also tell other potential visitors about the purported environmental degradation near the protected park.

A cursory look at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature sees the definition of ecotourism as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples”.

The online portal further defines ecotourism as “distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveller responsibility and active community participation”.

When the tourism appeal of a natural park is synonymous with such grand ideals, it is imperative for the state government to make efforts to ensure that potentially environmentally polluting activities like logging are carried out in a location where any potential negative fallout would not harm the ecology of protected areas.

Interestingly, a member of a village security and economic development committee of a village near Taman Negara confirmed that it was possible for tourists to see signs of logging on their way to the protected park.

The mother-of-one, noted that one cannot avoid running into several lorries driving back and fourth while driving to Taman Negara.

She pointed out that drivers could see logged areas while driving along the road.

To be fair, statistics issued by Tourism Pahang showed there was a dip in tourist numbers from 81,874 in 2014 to 68,873 in 2015. However, the same figures showed that the number picked up to 85,288 last year.

When contacted, a representative from Tourism Pahang confirmed that there was a slight uptake of tourists to Taman Negara to 13,193 for the period between January and February this year, compared with 11,234 for the same period last year.

Before one can use the statistics to brush aside concerns from environmentalists, one needs to remember that Pahang is not alien to controversy on environmental issues linked to potential ecotourism sites.

It was only early this year that claims surfaced on rampant logging and agricultural activities, among others, were threatening Tasik Chini’s ecosystem, leading to a visit by the Natural Resources and Environment minister to the second largest freshwater lake in Malaysia.

The lake, recognised by the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture in May 2009 as the first biosphere reserve in Malaysia, is supposed to be undergoing real-time monitoring by eight telemetry stations to ensure that its waters are safe from siltation, mining, logging and agricultural activities.

Where there is smoke, there is fire. It is vital for the state government and government agencies to always be alert to the slightest claim of environmental degradation so that they could quickly investigate and rectify any shortcomings.

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Myanmar: ACTED supports mangrove conservation in Rakhine State

ACTED ReliefWeb 21 Jun 17;

Then Tun Aung, village leader of Nga Tauk Tak, lives in a village that is directly impacted by climate change: his home, which once lay within walking distance of the coastline, is now mere meters from the waterline due to mangrove degradation. Other homes in his village are already experiencing flooding during high tide, and the number of families in Then Tun Aung’s village that are affected by this flooding increases each year.

Rakhine State experiences multiple natural hazards each year, with coastal communities among the hardest hit by disasters such as cyclones and flooding. Repeated natural hazards are hard upon coastal communities, and while mangroves serve as a natural buffer against intense monsoon rains, mangroves in Rakhine State are experiencing degradation at alarming rates: between 2000 and 2015, statewide mangrove coverage shrank by 23%.

In response to this growing problem in coastal communities, ACTED is implementing a project funded by OFDA that teaches local communities about disaster risk resilience techniques and emphasises the importance of mangroves in mitigating the effects of disasters by training local communities in conservation and preservation techniques. As part of this second aspect, ACTED is giving grants of approximately $4,500 USD to 12 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) in mangrove-adjacent communities throughout Sittwe Township, Rakhine State, to support the mangrove conservation and preservation efforts of local CBOs.

Then Tun Aung and the other six members of Nga Tauk Tack CBO have learned mangrove preservation and conservation techniques from ACTED’s Community-Based Ecological Restoration Management trainings, and will turn that knowledge into a project to prevent further degradation of the mangrove ecosystem near their village. With this grant and the support of the ACTED team, Nga Tauk Tack CBO will rebuild mangrove fencing, to prevent cows and other animals from grazing upon the young mangrove shoots; plant new mangrove shoots to encourage renewed growth of the ecosystem; and begin constructing fuel efficient stoves, which use less firewood than traditional stoves and thus will reduce the human impacts upon mangrove forests.

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Aquaculture is main driver of mangrove losses

SciDevNet 22 Jun 17;
* Aquaculture has proved to be the worst enemy of mangroves worldwide
* Mangroves provide livelihoods, protect coastlines against storms and sea-level rise
* Sustainable aquaculture along with mangrove conservation may be a solution

[JAKARTA] Expanding aquaculture in South-East Asia over the last two decades has been the main driver of mangrove loss in the world, says a study published in PLOS One this month (June).

The study, conducted by a team of scientists at Global Mangrove Watch (GMW), mapped the distribution and changes of mangrove ecosystems in the world during 1996 — 2010 using satellite imagery. The team analysed 1,168 mangrove areas in North, Central and South America, Africa, Middle East, India, and South-East Asia.

Nathan Thomas, lead author of the study, found 38 per cent of mangrove areas observed in the study are affected by human activity. South-East Asia, home to 33.8 per cent of the world’s mangroves, as well as 90 per cent of the world’s aquaculture, was the worst affected region with half of its mangrove areas suffering degradation.
“Mangroves are being threatened across their entire range and have suffered large losses over the past century, primarily due to increasing coastal populations and the conversion of mangroves to aquaculture.”

“Mangroves are being threatened across their entire range and have suffered large losses over the past century, primarily due to increasing coastal populations and the conversion of mangroves to aquaculture,” says Thomas, currently a post-doctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Aquaculture (shrimp farming) and agriculture (oil palm, rice) were evaluated to be the greatest drivers of mangrove deforestation in the region,” says Thomas.

Mangroves, especially of the Rhizophoraceae family, are maritime trees or shrubs that form dense masses of roots and foliage that naturally protect coastal ecosystems against storms and sea-level rise. Mangroves provide livelihoods through fishing and timber and help mitigate climate change by acting as carbon sinks. The word ‘mangrove’ refers to mangrove forests as well as to the trees.

Cecep Kusmana, expert on mangrove ecology at Bogor Agricultural University, West Java, says that Indonesia is home to 3.7 million hectares of mangroves with 70 per cent of it damaged or degraded by aquaculture and human settlement.

But Kusmana is optimistic because governments, international NGOs, and coastal people are now working together to rehabilitate mangroves.

“There is growing awareness among coastal communities in Indonesia concerning the role of mangroves for economic livelihoods and disaster mitigation. I witnessed mangrove rehabilitation by coastal communities in East Java, North Sumatra, South Sulawesi, and the north of Jakarta. This is something good for us even though I know that the rate of mangrove degradation and deforestation is still higher than its rehabilitation rate,” says Kusmana.

He says coastal communities are now trying to balance sustainable aquaculture with mangrove conservation. At Serdang Bedagai, North Sumatra, people conserve mangroves at the centre of their shrimp farms and plant oil palm along the borders. “I think this is the best way to conserve mangroves as well as to improve the livelihoods of poor communities that live around them,” adds Kusmana. GMW is an international project that begun in 2011 led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in collaboration with a host of other institutions including Aberystwyth University (UK) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.

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Coral reefs in the Red Sea can take the heat of climate change

In the azure waters of the Red Sea, Maoz Fine and his team dive to study what may be the planet's most unique coral: one that can survive global warming, at least for now.
Turkey Telegraph 22 Jun 17;

In the azure waters of the Red Sea, Maoz Fine and his team dive to study what may be the planet's most unique coral: one that can survive global warming, at least for now.

The corals, striking in their red, orange and green colors, grow on tables some 8 meters (26 feet) underwater, put there by the Israeli scientists to unlock their secrets to survival.

They are of the same species that grows elsewhere in the northern Red Sea and are resistant to high temperatures.

Fine's team dives in scuba gear to monitor the corals, taking notes on water-resistant pads.

"We're looking here at a population of corals on a reef that is very resilient to high temperature changes, and is most likely going to be the last to survive in a world undergoing very significant warming and acidification of sea water," Fine said at his nearby office ahead of the dive.

Global warming has in recent years caused colorful coral reefs to bleach and die around the world - but not in the Gulf of Eilat, or Aqaba, part of the northern Red Sea.

That is what has prompted Fine's work, both in the Red Sea and on its shores.

At the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat, dozens of aquariums have been lined up in rows just off the Red Sea shore containing samples of local corals.

A robot slowly dips its arms into each glass container, taking measurements and uploading them to a database.

"We exposed corals to high temperatures over long periods of time, beyond the current peak summer temperatures and even beyond the model-based temperatures we predict for the end of the century," said Fine, a marine biology professor from Bar Ilan University in central Israel.

He explained: "They didn't undergo bleaching."

According to Fine, the Gulf of Eilat corals fare well in heat thanks to their slow journey from the Indian Ocean through the Bab al-Mandab strait, between Djibouti and Yemen, where water temperatures are much higher.

"Over the past 6,000 years they underwent a form of selection through a very, very hot body of water, and only those that could pass through that hot water body reached here, the northern Red Sea and Gulf of Eilat," he said.

The world just marked its three hottest years in modern times, with scientists pointing to increases in heat-trapping emissions such as carbon dioxide as a driving factor.

Oceans also absorb about one-third of the carbon dioxide released by human activities, resulting in increasing acidification that is harmful to corals.

Coral reefs, most famously Australia"s Great Barrier Reef, are experiencing in recent years unabated mass bleaching and die-offs.

Often mistaken for a form of vegetation, corals "are in fact an animal that lives in symbiosis with an algae, a plant," said Jessica Bellworthy, a PhD student under Fine's supervision taking part in the Eilat research.

Corals and algae "provide services for each other," with the algae providing "up to 90 percent of the coral animal's food" through photosynthesis, said Bellworthy, originally from Britain.

"When ocean temperatures get too hot, this symbiosis, this relationship, breaks down," she said.

"The algae is lost from the coral and causes the coral to look white," effectively "starving" it.

Losing coral reefs is not only bad news for tourists diving to see their beauty and marine life swimming among them.

Corals are important to "the whole balance of the eco-system," offering structure, food and protection to a variety of marine animals, Bellworthy said.

Their rich chemical interactions have provided components for medications, including those for cancer and HIV patients, Fine said.

But while the coral reefs off Eilat and Aqaba may be able to survive global warming for now, they also face other risks.

Fertilizers, pesticides and oil pollution "harm the corals and lower their resilience to high temperatures," Fine said, warning of plans to build fish pools that would stream nutrient waste into the Gulf of Eilat.

The Israeli researcher stressed the need to join forces with countries that share the Red Sea.

That would include not only Jordan and Egypt - the only two Arab states to have peace agreements with Israel - but also Saudi Arabia, with which Israel has no formal ties.

"To safeguard this small body of water, we naturally need the cooperation of our neighbors since the reefs have no borders," Fine said.

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