Best of our wild blogs: 30 Aug 17

Abandoned nets at Pulau Ubin (26 Aug 2017)
Project Driftnet

RUMbles in July and August
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

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LTA, URA release land previously safeguarded for underground road system

Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: Land which was previously safeguarded for the Singapore Underground Road System (SURS) has been released as there is no more need for the arterial road, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Tuesday (Aug 29).

Enhancements to Singapore's public transport network and changes in land use policies have removed the need for the SURS, the 15km-long underground arterial ring road system around the fringe of the city that was to cater to traffic growth into and out of the city centre, the agencies said in a joint press release.

The SURS was conceptualised in the 1980s and the land along the SURS alignment was safeguarded in 1993.

LTA and URA said the city centre is already well-served by a comprehensive public transport system.

With the Downtown Line fully opening on Oct 21, the agencies said this will "further improve public transport connectivity", especially for commuters from the north-western and eastern regions of the island travelling to the Central Business District (CBD) and Marina Bay areas.

The completion of the Thomson-East Coast Line in 2024 "will also connect commuters from the northern and eastern parts of Singapore to the central areas, while Circle Line Stage 6 will close the Circle Line loop by around 2025".

By 2030, Singapore's rail network will be 360km long with 90 per cent of CBD developments within a five-minute walk to an MRT station, the agencies said.

With the release of the safeguarded SURS land, previously affected land owners will now have greater flexibility in their development plans, they added.

Scrapping of underground road network to give more urban planning options: Experts
WONG PEI TING Today Online 30 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE — Scrapping plans to build a 30km underground road network will not only give urban planners and landowners more flexibility to build “higher or lower”. It will also reduce the inconvenience and costs for developers since they will no longer have to take the network alignment into consideration in their planning, property and transport experts said on Tuesday (Aug 29).

Still, the impact of the Government’s decision to “de-safeguard” land preserved for the 30km-Singapore Underground Road System (SURS) will not be felt immediately, they told TODAY.

Noting that the announcement on the SURS’ fate is “no windfall for anybody”, Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, said that the lifting of restrictions means that urban planners can designate areas to have a “higher plot ratio”, which refers to the density of a building on any piece of land.

“There are more options to relocate or locate some amenities and developments. If you want to intensify or build higher, then this will allow the planners to lift the plot ratio,” he added.

In the long term, Mr Tan felt the move opens up the potential to develop the northern side of the SURS’ loop — namely the parts running across Balestier Road and Kallang — the only areas left that are not as densely built up as the city centre, or running along the existing arterial road network.

International Property Advisor chief executive officer Ku Swee Yong said the restrictions under the SURS affected a very niche group of landowners, who might be thinking of creating a subterranean structure or high-rise condominiums which might require more piling work for foundation.

He added that if the Government had gone ahead with the S$5 billion SURS plan, “about 30 to 40 per cent of the built-up areas, such as Havelock, Maxwell and Orchard” will have to put up with the inconveniences arising from the construction.

“There is no financial impact, except that we save some trouble for ourselves,” Mr Ku added.

Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director of real estate firm ZACD Group, said significant stretches of alignment run beneath lands with no development potential, such as the Central Expressway or the Marina Coastal Expressway or the Gardens by the Bay. Hence, there is limited impact on property developers.

He added that it is “incrementally more expensive to build deeper down”, with the price for going two to three levels underground costing about three times more.

“You will need more foundation work, more robust engineering work to keep the walls from collapsing on the sides as there is more pressure there,” Mr Mak added.

Transport experts felt that it was a wise move to scrap the underground road network as it was an obsolete idea conceived in the 1980s, at a time when plans for the country’s MRT network was still at its infancy.

The provisions made for the underground roads were also “too extensive” to be adapted for alternative uses, such as building pedestrian walkways or underground shopping malls to further support the car-lite vision, they noted.

"For me, de-safeguarding could have happened earlier. The moment they have planned for more MRT lines, then it becomes quite clear that we do not need to have those car roads tunneling through underground,” said Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) urban transport planner Park Byung Joon.

When asked whether the planned underground network could be adapted to fit the car-lite vision — for example, using it for cycling paths — Dr Park said that standards are vastly different when it comes to planning for different types of amenities. For example, the total walking distance for an underground pedestrian walk could only go no more than 2km — “this is what driving can cover in one to two minutes”.

While recognising the importance of “unlocking the value of the land along the corridor if the Government does not intend to use it”, SUSS economist Dr Walter Theseira felt that the authorities could have taken a more phased approach in “de-safeguarding” the land meant for SURS.

Pointing to the vision of having more autonomous vehicles on the roads in the future, Dr Theseira said the “heavy adoption” of this might increase road-usage in the prime areas as it could make this form of commuting “more convenient than taking mass public transport”.

Since the short-term impact of “de-safeguarding” is limited, the move could result in “us restricting ourselves unnecessarily”, Dr Theseira said.

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NUS launches event to promote environmental sustainability

Jose Hong Straits Times 29 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) took new steps in the name of being green on Tuesday (Aug 29).

It organised the first sustainABLE NUS Showcase, a two-day exhibition and carnival at NUS University Town.

With its 28 booths, the event aims to present the university's initiatives to transform itself into a greener campus - achieving sustainability in its operations, its research and education, its community engagement and through partnerships with outside organisations.

The event also tries to showcase how NUS' research and teaching tackle the sustainability challenges of today and the future.

For example, a booth showed off technology that would make solar power measurements at least 50 per cent more precise than what is currently available on the market.

Presented by Dr Martin Reed from the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris), it uses drones to scan buildings in Singapore and then recreates three-dimensional models of them. The technology then uses local weather data to calculate how much sunshine - and hence solar power - each specific surface of the building would get.

Dr Reed said that this would allow building owners to accurately know where to place what type of solar panels to maximise the solar power generated and the energy saved.

His team is already looking for clients to sell this service to. "I'm excited about the use of this technology as it is scalable to solve solar power problems at the national level, and I enjoy working hands on in the development and implementation of such solutions that will benefit Singapore," he said.

Another booth at the event showcased a NUS Environmental Research Institute team is presenting an approach to turn food waste into soil called NUSoil.

Visiting the Seris exhibitions was first-year mechanical engineering student Lee Dongyu. He said he came down because he was interested in the clean energy sector.

"I want to find out about the depth of research they're doing here in the field of solar energy research," said Mr Lee, 21.

He said he found the exhibits he visited quite good and interactive, and he appreciated the opportunities to find out more about the areas he is interested in outside of his curriculum.

NUS president, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, said in his opening address that the sustainABLE NUS Showcase was one of the ways the institution could show support for the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which outlines the Republic's plans to become more liveable and sustainable.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli was the guest of honour at the event.

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Malaysia: Sabah on fast-track to make pangolin a totally protected species

RUBEN SARIO The Star 29 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is speeding up the process of making pangolins a totally protected species amid the increasing number of cases of trafficking and hunting.

“There is a real urgency to give it full protection,” state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said after unveiling the Negaraku Livery on a MASwings ATR 72-500 aircraft here on Tuesday.

He said the Wildlife Department was preparing the necessary documents to upgrade the protection status of pangolins to be submitted to the Sabah Cabinet.

Sunda pangolins are the only species found in Sabah and are protected under Part 1 Schedule 2 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment, allowing for them to be hunted with permits.

The upgrade would see pangolins being listed under Schedule 1 of the Enactment that would ban their hunting altogether.

In the International Union Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species, Sunda pangolins are on the critically endangered list.

Masidi said that upgrading the protection status of pangolins would send a strong message to poachers and wildlife traffickers that Sabah was not making light of the animal being hunted illegally or its parts being traded.

Last month, Sabah Customs Department officers seized eight tonnes of pangolin scales at the Sepanggar port here.

The pangolin scales were believed to have been bound for China, although their origin has yet to be determined.

Sabah looking at making pangolins a completely protected species
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 28 AUg 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department is looking at upgrading the status of Pangolin to a completely protected species.

The department is in the midst of preparing a paper on the matter to upgrade the status of the mammalian from Schedule 2 to Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said he had ordered the department which falls under his ministry, to undertake the matter as soon as possible.

“They have always been planning to do this but now enough is enough. While it is impossible for a complete stop of pangolin or wildlife trade, but what is important is that we sends a strong message to all citizens on the need for all of us to work together in protecting them,” he said.

Masidi said this when asked about the recent case of an attempt to smuggle in RM103 million worth of pangolin scales weighing 8,000 kilogrammes via Sepanggar Port here.

In Sabah, Schedule 2 of the Enactment permits the hunting of the listed animals with a permit.

Masidi hoped that the stronger legislation via the status upgrading will help cut off illegal wildlife trade.

On the scales confiscated on July 29, Sabah Customs Department believes the scales were sourced from some 16,000 pangolins.

Asked whether the state government is pursuing to verify where they came from, Masidi said it is up to the Wildlife Department but there is obviously ‘a need to do so’.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment deputy ministerDatuk Pang Yuk Ming had previously stated that Sabah was likely to be a transshipment point in this case, as there was ‘no way a pangolin population of that size can come from Sabah’.

Customs director-general Datuk T. Subromaniam at a function here yesterday, said investigations involving the 43-year-old suspect in the pangolin scales case are almost complete and he is expected to be charged in court soon.

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Malaysia not the only transit point for wildlife smuggling

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 28 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia is not the only transit point in South-East Asia being used by international syndicates to smuggle wildlife, says Customs Department director-general Datuk Seri Subromaniam Tholasy (pix).

He said the perception that Malaysian ports were key transit points for wildlife smuggling was not true, but rather, this indicated Customs' many successes against smugglers here.

"We know that smugglers are using other ports in neighbouring countries. I do not want to name but they are not taking the action that we are taking," he told reporters after witnessing the handing over of duties from retiring Sabah Customs director Datuk Janathan Kondok to his successor Datuk Hamzah Sundang, the current Kuala Lumpur International Airport director.

Subromaniam was referring to the successes by Customs in Sabah, which seized some 8,000 tonnes of pangolin scales on transit at the Sepangar port here and also the seizure of ivory through KLIA in July.

He stressed that the smugglers were not only using Malaysian ports, but also those in neighbouring countries, which go undetected.

On the seizure of RM100mil worth of pangolin scales, he confirmed that the scales were on transit to China but declined to reveal the country of origin.

"We are still investigating. I can't reveal much," he said, adding that they expect to charge a 43-year-old local suspect for smuggling banned goods.

However, he said that the Sabah Wildlife Department was also free to take action against the suspect under the state's wildlife conservation laws.

"We will act under Customs laws. The Wildlife Department can also act against him using protection laws. These are two separate offences so we have no problem with them taking action against the suspect," he added.

The Customs' seizures of elephant tusks and pangolin scales had raised concerns that Malaysia had become a transit point for wildlife parts that fetch high value in China and Indo-China countries.

Tusks and other body parts of elephants are prized for decoration as talismans and for use in traditional medicine, while pangolin scales were considered aphrodisiacs.

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Sea Shepherd says it will abandon pursuit of Japanese whalers

Captain Paul Watson accuses ‘hostile governments’ in the US, Australia and New Zealand of being in league with Tokyo
Ben Doherty The Guardian 29 Aug 17;

The anti-whaling organisation Sea Shepherd will not contest the Southern Ocean against Japanese whalers this season, Captain Paul Watson has announced, accusing “hostile governments” in the US, Australia and New Zealand of acting “in league with Japan” against the protest vessel.

Sea Shepherd has been obstructing Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean each year since 2005, but Watson said the cost of sending vessels south, Japan’s increased use of military technology to track them, and new anti-terrorism laws passed specifically to thwart Sea Shepherd’s activities made physically tracking the ships impossible.

Australia took Japan to the international court of justice over its Southern Ocean whaling program in 2014, winning a judgment that condemned Japan’s whaling programs as being in breach of the International Whaling Commission’s ban on commercial whaling. The court rejected Japan’s argument that its whaling was for “scientific” purposes.

Watson said his volunteer organisation could not compete with Japanese military satellite technology, which tracked Sea Shepherd in the ocean. Japan has also passed anti-terrorism laws that make protest ships’ presence near whalers a terrorist offence.

“We’re just a group of volunteers trying to do the impossible, trying to do the job Australia and New Zealand and the United States and all these others countries should be doing but they’re too busy appeasing Japan.”

In a statement on Monday, Watson said the Japanese whaling companies “not only have all the resources and subsidies their government can provide, they also have the powerful political backing of a major economic superpower. Sea Shepherd however is limited in resources and we have hostile governments against us in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.”

Speaking on radio in Australia, Watson accused the Australian government of acting in league with Japan, indirectly supporting whaling by obstructing Sea Shepherd’s activities.

“Australia is definitely in league with Japan,” he said. “When our ships come in we’re harassed, we’re investigated, we’re searched, when our crew come in from other countries they have problems getting visas. We’ve been applying for charity status for 10 years – they won’t give it to us. This has been extremely hostile.

“Really what it’s all about is appeasing Japan. Trade deals take priority over conservation law.”

He said countries opposed to Japan’s whaling should have ships in the southern waters to monitor and deter whaling. “[They should] uphold their own laws, under US laws it’s illegal. Australia and New Zealand should be down there protecting their waters from poachers.”

Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean is illegal under international law. The US, Australia and New Zealand have all publicly, diplomatically and legally challenged Japan’s whaling program.

Aside from the ICJ challenge, Australia also pursued Japan in the Australian federal court in 2015, which fined the Japanese whaling company Kyodo $1m – a penalty that has not yet been paid.

Last month the New Zealand foreign affairs minister, Gerry Brownlee, said he was “extremely disappointed” Japan had passed new legislation to subsidise its whaling fleet and said he was concerned about Japan’s continued efforts to overturn the longstanding global moratorium on commercial whaling.

The US, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands were signatories to a joint statement in 2016, which accused the Japanese governments of flouting the ICJ order, and said: “Our governments remain resolutely opposed to commercial whaling.”

But that statement also warned anti-whaling activists against “dangerous, reckless or unlawful behaviour”.

The Sea Shepherd’s pursuit of whaling vessels has also attracted criticism. The Japanese government has described Sea Shepherd as “eco-terrorists” and sought to have Watson placed on an Interpol watch-list.

Security experts have criticised Sea Shepherd’s tactics at sea, saying they endanger lives.

And Sea Shepherd was fined for contempt of a US court for breaching an injunction not to physically attack or harass Japanese whalers.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Watson said Sea Shepherd’s 12 years of action against Japan’s whalers had been successful, having seen 6,500 whales saved, not a single humpback killed, and only 10 endangered fin whales killed.

Japan’s whaling quota has been reduced from more than 1,000 whales a season to 333 a year.

Watson said Sea Shepherd would “never abandon the whales” but would formulate a new plan for contesting Japan’s whaling.

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Hurricane Harvey: The link to climate change

Matt McGrath BBC 30 Aug 17;

When it comes to the causes of Hurricane Harvey, climate change is not a smoking gun.

However, there are a few spent cartridge cases marked global warming in the immediate vicinity.

Hurricanes are complex, naturally occurring beasts - extremely difficult to predict, with or without the backdrop of rising global temperatures.

The scientific reality of attributing a role to climate change in worsening the impact of hurricanes is also hard to tease out simply because these are fairly rare events and there is not a huge amount of historical data.

But there are some things that we can say with a good deal of certainty.

There's a well-established physical law, the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, that says that a hotter atmosphere holds more moisture.

For every extra degree Celsius in warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water. This tends to make rainfall events even more extreme when they occur.

Another element that we can mention with some confidence is the temperature of the seas.

"The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are about 1.5 degrees warmer above what they were from 1980-2010," Sir Brian Hoskins from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"That is very significant because it means the potential for a stronger storm is there, and the contribution of global warming to the warmer waters in the Gulf, it's almost inevitable that there was a contribution to that."

Researchers are also quite confident in linking the intensity of the rainfall that is still falling in the Houston area to climate change.

"This is the type of event, in terms of the extreme rainfall, that we would expect to see more of in a warming climate," Dr Friederike Otto from the University of Oxford told BBC News.

Environmental lawyers are questioning whether events like Harvey should still be referred to as "Acts of God" or "Natural Disasters" as they are made worse by emissions from fossil fuels.

In a comment paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, they say legal action may be taken against countries that don't contribute to the global effort to cut emissions.

Lawsuits seeking to apportion responsibility for climatic events have generally failed in the past.

But lawyers from the firms Client Earth in London and Earth and Water Law in Washington say that's likely to change.

They believe a new branch of knowledge called attribution science will allow the courts to decide with reasonable confidence that individual events have been exacerbated by manmade climate change.

They believe in future governments and firms risk being successfully sued if they don't cut their emissions.
"For the intensity of the rainfall (over Houston), it is very reasonable to assume there is a signal from climate change in that intensity."

One big question, though, is the persistence of the storm over the Texas area. This has been key to the scale of the downpour and the amount of flooding that has been seen so far.

Some researchers believe that climate is playing a role here too.

Prof Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says that a general slowdown in atmospheric circulation in mid-latitudes is a possible follow-on from a changing climate elsewhere in the world.
"This is a consequence of the disproportionally strong warming in the Arctic; it can make weather systems move less and stay longer in a given location - which can significantly enhance the impacts of rainfall extremes, just like we're sadly witnessing in Houston."

However, slow-moving storms over Texas have appeared before. Tropical storms Claudette in 1979 and Allison in 2001 had huge rainfall impacts as they settled in place over the state for long periods. Other scientists think that attributing the slowly meandering nature of this storm to climate change is a step too far.

"I don't think we should speculate on these more difficult and complex links like melting in the Arctic without looking into these effects in a dedicated study," said Dr Otto.

Experts say that in looking at a storm like Harvey, the impact of climate change is not simply about higher temperatures in the atmosphere and in the seas - it is also linked to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns.

Sometimes, the temperature and circulation changes brought about by warming can cancel each other out. Other times they can make the impacts worse. Understanding the full picture will be difficult and expensive.

"For hurricanes, we would ask the question as to what are the possible hurricane developments in the world we live in and compare that to the possible hurricane developments in a world without climate change," said Dr Otto.

"These high-resolution models are very expensive to run over and over again so that you can simulate possible weather rather than tracks of hurricanes."

Other researchers say that we are looking at the issue entirely the wrong way.

Regardless of the human impact on climate change, indirectly making Harvey worse - they believe the real human contribution to the catastrophe is far more simple and straightforward.

"The hurricane is just a storm, it is not the disaster," said Dr Ilan Kelman, at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and Institute for Global Health at University College London.

"The disaster is the fact that Houston population has increased by 40% since 1990. The disaster is the fact that many people were too poor to afford insurance or evacuate.

"Climate change did not make people build along a vulnerable coastline so the disaster itself is our choice and is not linked to climate change."

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