Best of our wild blogs: 9 Aug 17

Singapore’s plastic bag debate balloons at Jane Goodall lecture

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NParks warns public after crocodile sightings in Pasir Ris Park

Channel NewsAsia 8 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) has put up signs and advisory notices to warn the public about crocodiles at Pasir Ris Park after two sightings of the animals were reported in the past week.

In a statement on Tuesday (Aug 8) NParks said that it had been alerted to two recent sightings of crocodiles at the park.

A crocodile was seen at the mudflat of Sungei Tampines in Pasir Ris Park last Tuesday and another sighting was reported in the waters off the park's beach on Saturday.

"They were likely to be estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), which are known to swim freely in the Straits of Johor," NParks said.

"For the safety of park users, we are monitoring the sightings and will take steps to translocate the crocodiles, should they continue to venture into publicly-accessible areas at Pasir Ris Park."

Warning signs and advisory notices were put up on Monday after the sightings near the water edge.

NParks said that visitors should "heed these signs, in particular to keep to designated paths and away from water edges".

"Should park visitors encounter a crocodile, they should stay calm and back away slowly," NParks added. "They should not approach, provoke, or feed the animal."

Video and photos appearing to show crocodiles in the Pasir Ris Park have been circulating on social media.

In one of these videos, a crocodile appears to swim in the sea near the shoreline.

If members of the public need help, they should call the NParks helpline at 1800-471 7300. More information on Estuarine Crocodiles can be found on NParks’ website.

Crocodiles spotted in north-eastern Singapore
Audrey Tan Straits Times 8 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE - Crocodiles lazing in the waters are a common sight for visitors to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in north-western Singapore.

Recently, however, these reptiles have been spotted basking in the sun in other parts of the island too.

The animals have been seen by nature photographers and visitors to Singapore's north-eastern coast, such as at Pasir Ris Park.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said in response to queries from The Straits Times that it was alerted to two recent sightings of crocodiles at Pasir Ris Park.

The first sighting took place on Aug 1.

Retired engineer and photographer Ted Lee, 60, had spotted a roughly 2m-long crocodile sunbathing on the mudflat of Sungei Tampines in Pasir Ris Park at about 4pm.

"This is the first time I have seen a crocodile at Pasir Ris Park. I knew only that there were crocodiles at Sungei Buloh, but not here. When I saw it, it was sunbathing among the herons. But it moved away after three school students took photos of it and made lot of noise," Mr Lee told The Straits Times.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is separated from areas such as Pasir Ris by the Causeway, which blocks the flow of water. However, estuarine crocodiles are known to swim freely in the Johor Strait, said Mr Chia Seng Jiang, NParks' group director for parks.

There was another crocodile sighting on Aug 5 in the waters off the beach area of the park, he added. Last month, a video of a crocodile swimming in the waters off Sembawang was also circulated online.

Estuarine crocodiles usually feed and rest in mangroves and freshwater bodies. The animals face threats due to the destruction of their habitats and over-hunting for their hide, which is often used to make shoes and handbags.

Mr Chia assured visitors that the animals are usually found in the water or at mudflats located away from visitor routes. However, NParks is monitoring the sightings and will take steps to move the crocodiles elsewhere, should they continue to venture into publicly accessible areas at Pasir Ris Park, he said.

Warning signs and advisory notices have also been put up in the park near water edges.

Visitors who come across a crocodile should stay calm and back away slowly. They should not approach, provoke, or feed the animal. Visitors can also call the NParks helpline at 1800-471 7300 for assistance.

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LEDs to make light work of finding rubbish bins at NDP

Audrey Tan Straits Times 8 Aug 17;

The National Day fireworks will not be the only thing lighting up the areas around the Marina Bay floating platform this year.

Rubbish bins will also be lit up - with LED lights - tomorrow so that spectators will be able to spot them and dispose of their rubbish while watching the National Day Parade (NDP) fireworks.

The "bins" - essentially areas fenced up with screens to accommodate large amounts of trash - will be deployed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) at The Promontory @ Marina Bay, the Merlion Park and the area outside the Esplanade. These are areas where people who do not have tickets to the NDP are likely to gather.

This is the first time that LED lights are being used to highlight where the bins are at an NDP.

Since 2015, the NEA and Public Hygiene Council have been working together to conduct outreach activities to encourage people soaking in the festive vibes from outside the main parade venue to pick up after themselves.

They had found over the years that some people left their trash behind as they could not locate a bin in the crowd after nightfall.

To further drive home the Keep Singapore Clean message, the Public Hygiene Council has enlisted more than 450 volunteers from various organisations, such as the Singapore Scout Association and the Waterways Watch Society, to patrol these areas to remind people to pick up after themselves.

Within the floating platform area, there will be 11 screened disposal areas for parade-goers to get rid of their trash, said the NDP 2017 Executive Committee. It will also be deploying one such bin at the Helix Bridge and another one on the pavement leading to the Esplanade.

Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D'Silva said anecdotal observations have indicated improvements at the recent NDP preview, with spectators making conscious efforts to clean up and bin their trash before they leave.

"We hope this could be the start of a behavioural change where everyone would do their part to make Singapore truly clean every day," he added.

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Celebrating Singapore's entrepreneurial spirit: Leading light of family's solar energy business

Audrey Tan Straits Times 8 Aug 17;

Having taken over the reins of the family's business in solar energy, Mr Frank Phuan, 40, considers himself a second-generation businessman. But there is no denying his entrepreneurial spirit nonetheless.

Over the years, he has expanded the family's business in solar energy into a group of companies - including the Sunseap Group, which made headlines in 2015 when it got a contract to supply tech giant Apple with 100 per cent renewable energy for its local operations.

In addition, Mr Phuan has been growing his family's vertical farming business, Packet Greens, since 2014, renting more space in an industrial building along Boon Lay Way to grow more crops.

What started out as a test bed for light technologies in growing crops indoors has since grown into a farm which sells over 50 varieties of pesticide-free crops to consumers and restaurants.

But Mr Phuan's "baby" is still the Sunseap Group, which now has three entities - Sunseap Leasing, Sunseap Energy and Sunseap International. The first of the three, Sunseap Leasing, was started in 2011 with just four employees.

Sunseap Group was incorporated in 2015, and set up as a company separate from his father's solar panel manufacturing firm, Compo Enterprises, which was set up in the 1970s. Compo Enterprises was later renamed Sunseap Enterprises.

Singapore is a country famed for its efficiency, honesty and transparency. When we go into these regional markets, our partners regard us as a company which comes with these same traits.

MR FRANK PHUAN, 40, who expanded his family's business in solar energy into a group of firms, including Sunseap Group.
But Sunseap Group, which today has a staff strength of 79, has a different business model from Sunseap Enterprises. It focuses on selling solar energy as a service. Sunseap Group takes care of the installation, maintenance and operation of solar panel systems, and sells the energy produced to clients.

It was a large risk due to the large amounts of capital investment needed, said Mr Phuan, who has a 20-month-old son, Christian.

Charting new territory for a family business was also not easy, said Mr Phuan, who graduated in 2000 with a degree in materials engineering from the Nanyang Technological University. He started a marketing firm and dabbled in the F&B sector before returning to the family business. Said Mr Phuan: "My father asked me why I felt things had to be changed, saying that the traditional family business had taken care of all my needs as I was growing up.

"Instead of manufacturing solar equipment, we now use the equipment to develop our service. Through this process, I became my father's customer... We managed to transform a business that is in the 'sunset industry' into one that is of a recurring model." Sunseap Group is now among the largest solar firms here with a revenue of more than $25 million last year, up from the over $1.2 million revenue Sunseap Leasing earned in 2011. The group has also expanded overseas in places like Malaysia, where it has renewable energy projects.

On the value of the Singapore brand in such expansions, Mr Phuan said: "Singapore is a country famed for its efficiency, honesty and transparency. When we go into these regional markets, our partners regard us as a company which comes with these same traits."

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Indonesia: Rains dampen forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, new fires emerge in Papua

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 8 Aug 17;

JAKARTA - Rainfall has helped with firefighting efforts in the forests and plantations of Kalimantan and Sumatra, but new hotspots have emerged in Papua, in the eastern part of Indonesia.

The number of hotspots picked up by satellites on Monday (July 7) afternoon, was 158 across Indonesia, with Papua having the highest number, according to Indonesia's disaster management agency (BNPB).

"The dry season will last until October and will peak in September. The potential for drought and forest and plantation fires will increase," said BNPB's spokesman Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho in a press statement.

The most affected areas are Papua, with 93 hotspots, East Java with 17 and West Nusa Tenggara 11 hotspots. Most of the fires in Papua were in the Merauke regency.

Forest and plantation fires have plagued Sumatera and Kalimantan for decades, especially in the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatera, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. Similar blazes have appeared in Papua since 2015, according to the BNPB statement.

"Fires have emerged in Mearuke and Mappi regencies in Papua since 2015 … mainly due to massive land clearings to make way for plantations there," Dr Sutopo said. "Based on satellite monitoring, the converting of forest land into plantation has taken place quite swiftly in Papua."

Most of the hot spots were located in hard-to-reach corners, and a lack of equipment and personnel to help with fire-fighting efforts have complicated the problem, Dr Sutopo explained.

He added that an estimated 354,191 hectares of forest and plantation in Papua have been burnt between Jan 1, 2015 and Oct 20, 2015, an area about five times the size of Singapore.

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Indonesia: APP, With Japanese Agencies, Plants Seeds to Conserve a Riau Forest

Jakarta Globe 8 Aug 17;

Jakarta. Sinar Mas Group's Asia Pulp and Paper collaborated with the Japan Agency for Environmental Business, or JAEB, and the International Tropical Timber Organization to conserve the Kerumutan forest in Pelalawan, Riau Islands, by planting Meranti trees there on Monday (07/08).

Around 30 Japanese volunteers, including academics, researchers and journalists, participated in the planting event. According to ITTO project manager Ma Hwan-ok, planting is the most effective way to restore a degraded ecosystem.

The recent effort comes on the heels of Indonesia's recent public commitment to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, which call for government-led programs to combat climate change through a variety of means.

Tan Ui Sian, chairman of APP Japan, said the cooperative program in Riau is the company's fourth such initiative since 2014, which saw earlier actions aimed at restoring forests throughout Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Approximately 10,000 Meranti seeds were planted on Monday on 20 hectares of land in Pelalawan.

"This event is also a message to people around the world that conserving the forest and preserving the environment is everyone’s responsibility," Tan said.

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Thailand: Air pollution alert in 14 provinces

Pratch Rujivanarom, The Nation/ANN Jakarta Post 8 Aug 17;

Air pollution in 14 provinces across Thailand is much higher than World Health Organisation (WHO) safe limits, Greenpeace revealed Monday in a shock report.

The environmental group made the announcement as it disclosed average readings of PM2.5 – particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micron – in the country during the first half of 2017. PM2.5 is so small that it can be inhaled into the blood system and cause cancer and heart disease.

The assessment of PM2.5 levels at 19 air quality measurement stations in 14 provinces across the country showed that every station recorded levels higher than the WHO recommendation of less than 10 milligrams per cubic meter of air.

“Greenpeace has monitored PM2.5 levels in Thailand since 2015 and found that the top five provinces that have the highest records of PM2.5 were the same every year, which is a clear sign that we have to do something to clean our air,” said Chariya Senpong, Greenpeace coordinator on climate change and energy.

Chiang Mai, Tak, Khon Kaen, Bangkok and Saraburi were among the worst cities with the most severe PM2.5 levels.
Khon Kaen had the highest level during the past six months with an average record of 44 micrograms per cubic meter of air, while Saraburi had 40 and Chiang Mai 39.

Chariya said it was understandable that those provinces suffered from severe air pollution as Chiang Mai and Tak in the North were in valley areas and faced haze problems from open burning every year. Khon Kaen, Bangkok and Saraburi are main urban areas with a high volumes of traffic and industry.

“This is a big threat to people’s health, as PM2.5 is so small that it can pass dust filter systems in our respiratory system and be absorbed into our blood system through our lungs,” she said.

“The particulates carry toxic substances such as heavy metals with them, so exposure to PM2.5 can cause cancer and other diseases such as allergies.”

A State of Global Air report showed that air pollution from PM2.5 was responsible for 37,500 premature deaths in Thailand in 2015.

“It is the people’s right to be in a clean environment and informed about the health threats from the air, so the authorities should add PM2.5 in their Air Quality Index and make sure that people can easily access face masks and information about air pollution,” Chariya said.

Meanwhile, the Pollution Control Department (PCD) Air Quality and Noise Management Bureau director Seksan Saengdao said Thailand already had eight air quality indicators, which included PM2.5, while the PCD was working to install new PM2.5 monitors to cover 31 provinces.

“We understand the problem of the lack of coverage of PM2.5 monitors and we are working on it. Moreover, in the country’s 20-year strategic plan, the government also focuses in tackling air pollution from other sources as well,” Seksan said.

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Rice to riches: Vietnam's shrimp farmers fish for fortunes

Jenny VAUGHAN AFP Yahoo News 9 Aug 17;

Soc Trang (Vietnam) (AFP) - With a flashy gold watch and a chunky matching ring, Tang Van Cuol looks a far cry from the average Vietnamese farmer as he slings back a shot of rice wine and boasts about his projected earnings.

After years scratching a living growing rice and onions or farming ducks, the 54-year-old says his life was transformed in 2000 -- by shrimp.

The Mekong Delta, long renowned as the "rice bowl of Vietnam", is now also home to a multi-billion-dollar shrimp industry and burgeoning numbers of farmers are building fortunes from the small crustaceans.

"Raising shrimp can bring so much income, nothing can compare," Cuol says over lunch with friends, a healthy spread of rice, salad, pork and -- of course -- shrimp.

This year he expects to make one billion dong, or around $44,000 -- an enormous sum in the delta, where rice farmers make around $100 a month.

The shrimp bonanza began in the 1990s when rising sea-levels seeped saltwater into the Mekong Delta.

It has surged in parallel with demand from the US and European Union.

Savvy locals were swift to spot the changing conditions were ripe for shrimp farming.

The wealth has transformed Cuol's part of Soc Trang province: motorbikes have replaced bicycles on newly-paved roads dotted with multi-storey concrete homes unimaginable just a generation ago.

Cuol owns several motorbikes, funded his daughter's wedding and claims an impressive collection of antiques "worth hundreds of millions of dong."

- Crisis is looming -

But environmentalists warn that the bounty from intensive shrimp farming may be short-lived.

Today pollution and disease frequently lay waste to crustacean harvests.

But a wider crisis is looming caused by the obliteration of mangrove forests to make way for farms, exposing the area to lashings from storms and further rises in sea-level linked to climate change.

"This is not sustainable," said Andrew Wyatt, Mekong Delta Program Manager at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The IUCN is encouraging farmers to preserve mangroves and stop using harmful chemicals so their shrimp can be certified as organic, earning a five to 10 percent premium in the process.

Yet shrimp farmers say the financial rewards are too great to ignore.

Just like his father and grandfather, Tang Van Tuoi struggled as a rice farmer.

He slept under a roof fashioned from coconut palms, earning just enough to support his family.

But when saltwater started creeping into his rice fields -- he saw an opportunity and started harvesting shrimp.

"Now everything is developed, we have vehicles, roads, things have changed massively," he told AFP from his polished living room, where a flatscreen TV hangs over a wood furniture set.

Even in a bad year, he can earn more than he did as a rice farmer. In a good year he can rake in upwards of $40,000.

Flush with cash, he has built three homes for his family.

"We have money, we have enough of everything," said the father of six, as his granddaughter played a video game on a smartphone nearby.

But he admits that such farming is a gamble.

His ponds have been hit by disease and pollution.

Attuned to the long-term risks, the government has resisted opening the whole region to the shrimp industry even as seawater continues to seep further inland.

- Food fears -

Instead, authorities have ploughed millions of dollars into sealing off freshwater zones needed to grow rice -- the nation's staple -- throughout the Mekong Delta.

The strategy is in part to ensure the region can grow enough rice to feed the country, a historic pillar of the communist government's centrally planned economy.

But as the country has embraced market reforms, the lure of exporting high-earning shrimp -- mainly to Europe and the United States -- has become increasingly attractive.

This year, the prime minister called for shrimp exports to reach $10 billion by 2025, a jump from $3 billion last year.

In parallel, export earnings from rice have steadily declined since 2011, bringing in $2.2 billion last year.

"They're trying to thread a needle between making money off of exports and economic development, but also not sacrificing long-term food security," said Tim Gorman, a Cornell University PHD researcher.

As a result, policies both encourage the quick cash generated by shrimp farms and protect the long-term future of the rice crop.

That can seem contradictory or haphazard to farmers.

In some areas, the government is now urging farmers to grow rice half the year and harvest shrimp for the other half -- a hard sell to farmers like Thach Ngoc Cuong who are eager to abandon rice.

He has two plots in Soc Trang province, one contains freshwater for rice, the other is salty for the prized crustaceans.

"I would be very happy if we could raise shrimp on the rice side," he said.

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