Study to gauge Singapore's fish-farming capacity

It could have lasting implications for budding aquaculture industry
Audrey Tan In Trondheim, Norway Straits Times 1 Sep 17;

An ongoing study to determine how much fish can be sustainably reared in the farms off Singapore's northern coast could have long-lasting implications for the budding aquaculture industry.

The two-year research study on aquaculture zones is the first of its kind to be commissioned by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, and will be completed next August.

AVA said the study will assess and determine the maximum production levels that can be supported in aquaculture zones in the Johor Strait.

The findings could also inform government regulation in aquaculture, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for National Development, and Trade and Industry, told The Straits Times during a study trip to Norway last month.

The study comes amid the Government's push for farms here to be more productive, so local food production can become a better buffer during global supply disruptions.

But as important is an answer to the question of the kind of impact large-scale fish farming would have on the ecological balance. Before farmers can think of ramping up production, they have to deal with problems such as the deadly algae blooms that have hit the same area of the Johor Strait several times in the recent past, Dr Koh said.

"Therein lies the challenge - to see if the increase in volume of production would pose ecological problems there that would eventually kill off the entire industry."

The study is being done by Akvaplan-niva AS, a Norwegian research and consultancy firm which focuses on aquaculture and marine/freshwater environments, among other things.

Currently there are 125 fish farms in Singapore, of which seven are land-based. Fish farms here produced a total of 4,851 tonnes of fish last year, accounting for about 10 per cent of total fish consumption.

This is up from the 3,158 tonnes locally produced in 2012, which accounted for 6 per cent of total consumption then.

Dr Koh said one possible area the Government could look into is how the feeding of fish in commercial farms can be regulated.

Some farmers, he said, may feed fish with low-quality feed like bread crumbs or leftover meal, which pollutes the environment.

"If we don't look at how we can regulate such behaviour, it will become increasingly challenging for that piece of coastal area to be viable in the longer term."

Last year, Chile's salmon farming industry was devastated by an algae bloom said to be the worst in the country. The National Geographic reported that the impact could have been exacerbated by poor regulation of the country's aquculture trade.

The study, said Dr Koh, would help the Government engage industry with science and information.

Mr Chan Wei Loong, chair of the Republic Polytechnic's Diploma in Marine Science and Aquaculture programme, said the study is important as it gives an indication of how much fish the body of seawater off Singapore's northern coast can support.

He pointed out that the Johor Strait is narrow and is shared by two sovereign nations. "But it is good to know the current status of the health of the water in the Johor Strait and perhaps this can help us understand the occurrence of the algae blooms in 2014 and 2015 that killed many fish."

Singapore works on rearing fish in closed systems
Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Sep 17;

Most fish in Singapore are reared in net cages submerged in the sea.

But these open-net cage systems leave the fish susceptible to the elements. Over the past five years, Singapore's fish farmers have seen an oil spill and two harmful algae blooms kill off tonnes of fish.

Closed containment aquaculture systems could solve this problem.

Unlike net cages, these systems separate the water where the fish are kept from the water in the natural environment. These can be tanks placed in barges or on land.

Singapore is now looking into how more coastal farms can use such systems "to safeguard farm production from adverse environmental changes and minimise detrimental impact on farm productivity", said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

In Norway, which has a booming aquaculture industry, farms already use similar closed containment systems to rear salmon.

There are two main types of closed containment systems - the flowthrough and the recirculated aquaculture systems.

In a recirculation mode used by Norwegian farms, which The Straits Times saw during a trip to the Nordic country with local fish farmers and Singapore government officials, the waste water from the containment system is reused.

Using the same stock of water helps the farm save energy as it would not have to constantly heat the cool Nordic water to temperatures ideal for salmon.

The flowthrough method, which some farms in Singapore use, involves treating the water before it enters the system. The water is then discharged without being reused.

In April 2015, AVA awarded a tender to five companies to design and develop closed containment aquaculture systems. One of them is Singapore Aquaculture Technologies, a fish farm located in the Johor Strait. It has been using a closed containment system since 2012.

With the funding given to companies that won the tender, Singapore Aquaculture Technologies built on its earlier prototypes with a better water-filtration system and installed solar panels, which helped to reap energy savings when used with existing diesel generators.

The farm now rears most of its fish in about 90 tanks located on a barge and wooden platform, instead of net cages in the sea.

Co-founder Dirk Eichelberger, 53, said the farm's system involves pumping seawater from a depth of 2m to 4m before filtering it and passing it through ultraviolet light rays to kill almost all organisms, including plankton and bacteria.

As the closed system allows the farmers to control more environmental factors, such as the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, they can rear more seabass per cubic m - up to 70kg, compared with 15kg for the net-cage systems.

AVA told The Straits Times this week it has been working with the companies on their projects, including providing technical assistance.

A spokesman said all five companies have finished the projects and demonstrated the systems to AVA.

"The completed projects have developed workable prototypes that are different in concept to cater to different operations... The companies have shared their new systems with other farmers through AVA-organised workshops," she said.

Audrey Tan

Robot can make light work of net cleaning
Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Sep 17;

Hoisting nets out of the sea for cleaning is a back-breaking task.

Yet, it is a job that fish farmers in Singapore have to do regularly - about once every three days - to ensure the nets do not get clogged and that reared fish can grow healthily.

However, new technology in the form of underwater robots could make light work of this.

Such robots recently caught the eye of local fish farmers at Aqua Nor - the world's largest aquaculture technology exhibition held in Trondheim, Norway, last month.

The robots, which cost about $200,000 each, can be remotely controlled from land.

They work by plying the nets and cleaning them with high-pressure pumps. This way, substances clogging the nets, such as algae or mussels, can be flushed out.

There are also built-in cameras on these robots, which will help the farmers see if the net has been cleaned to their satisfaction, or if another round of cleaning is needed. They also enable farmers to check for holes in the net.

It is a technology that fish farmer Frank Tan, 43, is considering for his farm in the Johor Strait, where many of Singapore's other coastal fish farms are located.

At most of these farms, nets are left submerged in the sea to house fish. However, they are easily dirtied in Singapore's nutrient-rich waters.

For example, when algae or soft coral grow on the nets, water flow is obstructed and oxygen levels are reduced. The debris, which includes algae, also prevents currents from flushing out fish waste, which could cause bacteria to grow.

Speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the exhibition in Norway, Mr Tan, managing director of Marine Life Aquaculture, said: "Each net is cleaned once every three days. But because we have many pens, nets are hoisted and washed almost every day."

He said that each net, when dry, weighs about 1,200kg. However, it feels twice as heavy when it is wet. As many as six workers are needed to hoist a net each time.

But with the robot, Mr Tan predicts the job can be done by just one person, and only once a week.

Said Mr Tan: "The robotic net washer will save me a lot of time and man hours. It will also help to boost productivity, as I can clean the net with the fishes still in there." Currently, fishes have to be manually moved to a different pen whenever a net is being washed.

Mr Tan was part of a delegation from Singapore which visited Norway last month to attend the Aqua Nor exhibition and to learn about Norwegian aquaculture technologies and methods.

Led by Senior Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon, the delegation comprised fish farmers as well as officials from the Ministry of National Development, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and other agencies.

Mr Tan said he plans to apply for AVA's Agriculture Productivity Fund to co-fund the purchase of the robot. He said: "This trip provided a good opportunity and platform for government officials and fish farmers to come together and discuss how various technologies could be applied in Singapore's coastal farms to increase productivity and capacity.

"With such discussions between regulator and farmers, traditional fish farming could turn into a new high-tech industry and play an import role in national food resilience."

Fishing for tech solutions to make feeding a breeze
S'pore fish farmers looking into adopting automated systems to boost productivity
Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Sep 17;

Fish feed is hardly gourmet grub, but to some fish farmers, the protein-rich pellets could very well be.

This is because up to 70 per cent of the cost of rearing one fish goes to feeding it.

Commercial fish feed looks like dry dog food, and usually contains a mix of algae, a protein source such as fishmeal or soya bean, and other vitamins.

Some fish farmers in Singapore are now eager to see how technology can be used to make the feeding process more efficient.

Barramundi Asia fish farmers, for example, are considering investing in an automatic remote feeding system that will allow them to monitor how much feed is given, and whether the fish are eating it. This will reduce overfeeding, and help the farm cut costs.

Such systems were on display last month at an aquaculture technology exhibition in Norway, attended by Singapore fish farmers and government officials.

"This system will help us ensure the feed does not get wasted, and will also eliminate manpower requirements," said Mr Andrew Kwan, group managing director of Commonwealth Capital, a majority owner of Barramundi Asia.

Mr Kwan, 50, attended the exhibition with the farm's managing director Joep Staarman, 59, and board member Hans den Bieman, 58.

Currently, workers at the farm off Singapore's southern coast feed the fish manually by scattering the fish feed into the sea pens. About six workers are needed to do this.

The automated system comprises a sophisticated network of sensors, cameras and control panels that allow a person sitting in a control room to monitor how much feed is being dispensed, and whether the fish are eating it.

"The person in the control room who is in charge of feeding the fish will be able to monitor the consumption of the feed by the fish, and the moment they are satiated, the food supply can be cut," said Mr Kwan.

"Seventy per cent of the cost of producing fish comes from the feed alone. Being able to control and manage that efficiently will impact the bottom line tremendously," he added.

Mr Chan Wei Loong, programme chair at Republic Polytechnic's Diploma in Marine Science and Aquaculture programme, said most farmed fish do not know satiation and will eat as long as there is food.

An automated system that dispenses the correct amount of feed at predetermined intervals could help to reduce manpower needs, he said. Farmers usually determine the amount of feed based on the estimated weight of fish in each cage.

"It enhances productivity by having the human deployed to do something else," said Mr Chan.

70%: Percentage of the cost of rearing one fish that is spent on feeding it.

New oral vaccine for farmed fish can be put in feed
Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Sep 17;

When it comes to putting healthy fish on the dinner table, experts believe vaccination is the way to go.

But it is a laborious process.

Workers at fish farms have to manually inject young fish with the vaccine one by one in order to protect them against specific diseases.

But scientists at Temasek Polytechnic (TP) are working with an Israeli partner to develop an easier process that will allow farmers to mix the vaccine in the fish feed.

The oral vaccine against fish iridovirus - a common disease in farmed fish that can kill them - was developed by inserting parts of the iridovirus into a special type of microalgae, which are then mixed with feed and fed to the fish.

For the Temasek Polytechnic scientists, the key to developing the oral vaccine was finding a substance that could encapsulate the biological compounds in a way that would prevent it from being destroyed by fish stomach acids.

They worked with Israeli biotechnology company TransAlgae to develop a novel algae-based technology that allows for the oral delivery of protein-based drugs, such as vaccines, to animals.

This method uses a strain of algae that can withstand acids in the fish's digestive tract.

Dr Ofra Chen, vice-president of research and development at TransAlgae Israel, told The Straits Times: "The specific algae cell wall... protects the vaccine from degradation in the animal digestive system and enables its delivery in its intact and functional form."

While antibiotics are chemical compounds designed to kill bacteria, vaccines are preventive. They contain biological compounds that boost the fish's own immune system against the virus.

Vaccinating fish against specific diseases reduces the need to treat them with antibiotics when they are sick.

When humans consume antibiotics-fed fish, there is the possibility of residual traces of the drug passing through the food chain and ending up in the bellies of humans, which could build up a resistance to antibiotics.

The hope is that this would encourage wider adoption of vaccines here when rolled out commercially by 2021, reducing farmers' reliance on antibiotics and leading to healthier fish, said team lead Diana Chan, head of the Centre for Aquaculture and Veterinary Science at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Applied Science.

The Straits Times reported in May this year that only three of about 120 fish farms here have started vaccinating their fish manually.

A spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said fish vaccines have helped to reduce disease occurrence in farmed fish, and contributed to the sustainable growth of aquaculture in many countries.

She noted several advantages of oral vaccinations for fish.

"It is a quick and easy way to vaccinate a large number of fish, causes less stress to the fish, requires less time and effort to administer, and can be given to fish of all sizes, including those too small to be handled for injections," said the spokesman.

She added that farms should choose the vaccine administration method that suits them best.

"For example, farmers can choose to vaccinate smaller fish with oral vaccines and subsequently boost their immunity with repeated doses of the same oral vaccine, or an injectable version of the vaccine."

Audrey Tan

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Shops offer discounts, free food, when you use your own bag, container

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 31 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE — A national campaign kicks off today to get Singaporeans to use their own reusable items such as bags and food containers when they shop or dine outside. This is to cut back on the use of plastic disposables, which are harmful to the environment, and to reduce waste.

Those who support the campaign will be offered incentives such as discounts and free food items at supermarkets, cafes and food outlets.

There are 14 retailers, which together operate more than 220 shops in Singapore, taking part in the Bring Your Own (BYO) Singapore campaign. It was launched on Thursday (Aug 31) by non-governmental organisation Zero Waste SG, in partnership with the labour movement’s youth wing Young NTUC, office-equipment company Ricoh Asia Pacific, and the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Participating retailers include supermarket chains such as Cold Storage and NTUC FairPrice, and food establishments such as Paul bakery outlets and Joe & Dough cafes.

At FairPrice’s 141 outlets, for example, shoppers who use their own reusable bags will get 10 cents off their shopping bill with a minimum spending of S$10.

At eatery Aloha Poke’s five branches, customers who take away food in their own reusable containers get an extra serving of a “superfood” item worth S$1, for free. Homegrown cafe chain Joe & Dough will take 50 cents off the bill when customers use a reusable cup or bottle at its nine outlets.

The campaign, which runs till the end of the year, hopes to get 500 retail outlets on board, and to reduce the use of disposables by one million pieces this year.

Retailers taking part will keep track of the number of plastic disposables that they manage to cut back.

Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste SG, said that rewards are being used at the start to get the momentum going and to cultivate the “BYO habit” among more Singaporeans. “After some time, this habit should hopefully continue, even without retailers providing incentives.”

Lawyer Lynn Poon, 28, who patronises Aloha Poke every fortnight, agreed: “It will get the ball rolling. Eventually, it should become a habit for people.”

However, one executive, who gave her name as just Ms Ann, 26, said that she supports using fewer plastic bags, but she would not use her own reusable containers to take away food because washing up is a hassle.

Mr Tay said that at the end of the campaign, the organisation will study the need to extend it if the target is not met, or look into other ways to cultivate the habit of reducing plastic waste among the population.

Plastic waste, which includes take-away cups and plastic bags, is one of the most common forms of waste found at Singapore’s incineration plants. Last year, there were 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste generated here, with just 7 per cent of it being recycled, NEA figures showed.

Burning plastics produces carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change, Zero Waste SG said.

Plastic disposables are also detrimental to wildlife, human health and the environment. Being light, they wind up in waterways and the sea as litter, harming marine creatures that ingest them. Small plastic fragments could also find their way into the food chain of humans.

Lukewarm response from retailers to support BYO campaign
KENNETH CHENG Today Online 31 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE — Over the last five months, non-governmental organisation Zero Waste SG tried to draw some 200 retailers to be a part of the Bring Your Own (BYO) Singapore campaign. In the end, only 14 came on board.

They are to be involved in the nationwide movement to help Singaporeans use less plastic, whether it be plastic bags or food containers.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday (Aug 31), Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste SG, said that the organisation was “definitely not satisfied” with the numbers.

"The big retailers have to step up their efforts in not just educating consumers to (cut down the use of) disposables, but also in leading the way to show (the) small and medium enterprises that the big players are ready to (do this),” he added.

While some of the 200 or so retailers approached had not made up their minds, Mr Tay revealed that others did not want to take part because they were afraid that offering incentives to motivate consumers to use fewer plastic products might end up raising their operating costs.

Mr Tay explained that by cutting back on disposables, retailers save on some material costs. The hope is for the campaign to drive more traffic to the shops, making up the shortfall that comes from offering rewards to the customers.

Then, the retailers were also concerned about the varying sizes of reusable receptacles customers may use. There might be complaints from customers that “they are receiving less”, they said.

Two eateries, Indian restaurant chain Muthu’s Curry and Percolate cafe, which were not among the retailers approached by Zero Waste SG, told TODAY that they explored or started a similar initiative.

Last year, Muthu’s Curry considered giving discounts to encourage patrons to use their own take-away containers. However, rising rental rates and food costs were among the barriers to making it work.

The chain also could not reach out to customers in “large numbers” to promote such a move, Mr Srinivasan Ayyakannu, 39, its operations director, said.

Earlier in August, Percolate cafe in Bedok North began shaving 50 cents off coffee bills for patrons who choose the reusable Sol Cups sold there. Co-founder Avin Tan, 30, said that the cafe was slightly concerned the incentive might trim margins for certain drinks that have costlier ingredients.

Other difficulties include patrons who ask to store the glass cups at the shop. Allowing other reusable mugs could also mean having to manage customer expectations about “under-filling” the cups, so confining it to the “cafe-standard” Sol Cups negates this problem, he added.

However, Mr Wiltian Ang, 35, owner of The Matcha Project X Copper Espresso takeaway kiosk at Marina Boulevard, which is part of the BYO Singapore campaign, said that it would not incur extra costs with the discount it is offering.

“We just earn less … there’s more than enough margin to cover (the cost of the incentive),” he said.

Eatery Aloha Poke’s co-founder John Chen, 38, said that giving an extra serving of a food item (worth S$1) for every reusable container presented is a “very small contribution to help save the environment”.

BYO movements have been around for years. The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and the National Environment Agency ran the Bring Your Own Bag Day campaign between 2007 and 2010, involving about 300 retailers.

In 2013, furniture giant Ikea stopped making available disposable plastic bags.

Over the years, the SEC has also taken steps to nudge consumers to use their own bags when shopping. Since July, for instance, it has joined hands with green group Plastic-Lite SG to send volunteers to supermarkets, where patrons are given reusable bags and educated on how to cut waste at home.

Discounts and free food for bringing your own bag, bottle or containers at 14 retailers
Samantha Boh Straits Times 31 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE - From supermarket chains to a German sausage stall in Dover, 14 retailers will be dangling small discounts to encourage their customers not to use plastic bags, bottles and containers from Friday (Sept 1) to the end of the year.

Customers who bring their own bag, bottle or container will, for instance, get 10 cents off at NTUC FairPrice if they spend $10 or more, or get 50 cents off at German sausage stall Wuerstelstand. Other participating food outlets are also offering discounts of 50 cents to $1. (See below for a complete list.)

The retailers are acting to reduce plastic waste in Singapore, as part of the Bring Your Own (BYO) campaign launched on Thursday by environmental non-governmental organisation Zero Waste SG.

While 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2016, only 7 per cent was recycled, making it one of the most common types of waste disposed at the incineration plants in Singapore.

The burning of plastic produces carbon dioxide which contributes to the warming of the planet.

Zero Waste SG executive director Eugene Tay said his goal is to sign up 500 retail outlets and reduce the number of disposable items by 1,000,000 pieces by the end of the year.

Besides the discounts, other customer incentives include cash rebates, free top-ups for food or drinks bought, gifts and reward points.

Retailers who sign up have to display posters, stickers or wobblers on the campaign and track how much they have reduced their use of plastic items such as cups and plates.

"After some time, this habit should hopefully continue even without retailers providing incentives," said Mr Tay.

Mr Erich Sollbock, 56, owner of Wuerstelstand, said: "I have independently made it my SOP (standard operating procedure) not to automatically provide plastic disposables to my customers."

He added that the amount of savings from the reduction of disposables will pay for the 50 cent incentive he provides to customers.

The BYO campaign is also being organised in partnership with Young NTUC, office automation equipment supplier Ricoh Asia Pacific, and the National Environment Agency (NEA).

An NEA spokesman said it is encouraged by the ground-up effort, adding that its study on how different types of disposable food packaging materials compare in terms of cost and impact to the environment is expected to conclude in the second half of this year.

Ms Melissa Tan, chairman of the Waste Management & Recycling Association of Singapore, said the campaign could not have come sooner.

She noted that some local waste collectors and recyclers collect plastic waste, but export them to other countries for recycling.

"Unfortunately, even some of these countries are finding it hard to cope with so much plastic waste going to them that they are also putting up barriers to these plastic waste imports that harm their environment," she said.

"To discourage Singaporeans from over-relying on such disposable plastic items, shops can charge more for them or like some supermarkets overseas, (and) not even provide them to customers."

Participating retailers:

Aloha Poke - Additional superfood (worth $1)
Cold Storage - Free reusable bag with at least $20 purchase; valid only on Mondays in September 2017; show BYO logo to cashier
Happy Salad - 2 free toppings
Joe and Dough - 50 cents discount
Kopi Ong - One chop; free drink after 10 chops
NTUC FairPrice - 10 cents discount with at least $10 purchase
Paul - 10% discount on bread items
The Lokal Singapore - $1 discount
The Matcha Project X Copper Espresso - 50 cents discount
The Sugar Fairy - 20 cent discount (for bag and container); 10 cents (for bag)
Verdure Cafe - 50 cents discount
Wuerstelstand - 50 cents discount
Well Dressed Salad Bar - 50 cents to $1 depending on the type of reusable
Yellow Cup Coffee - 50 cents discount

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Illegal rhino horns seized at Changi Airport; Vietnamese man assisting in investigations

Today Online 1 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE – A Vietnamese man has been detained by the authorities at Changi Airport on Thursday (Aug 31) after eight pieces of rhino horn were seized from his luggage.

In a joint media release on Friday (Sept 1), the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) – acting on a tip-off – collaborated with the Singapore Customs and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority and stopped the 29-year-old, who was transiting in Singapore during his flight from Dubai to Laos.

His luggage was inspected and eight pieces of cut rhino horns, concealed as gifts, were found and seized.

Under Singapore law, it is an offence to illegally import, export or re-export, transit, possess, sell, offer or advertise for sale, or display to public any illegal wildlife species, including their parts and derivatives.

Offenders may face a fine of up to S$500,000 and/or two years imprisonment, and the forfeiture of the contraband.

The AVA said the suspect is assisting them with investigations.

The Singapore government adopts a zero tolerance stance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to smuggle endangered species and their parts and derivatives.

In 2014, a man was sentenced to 15 months’ jail for smuggling eight pieces of rhino horns while in transit through Singapore.

The public can also alert AVA of any suspected cases of illegal wildlife trade, and provide information through online feedback form or call us at 6805 2992. All information shared with AVA will be kept strictly confidential.

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All new public housing blocks to have 'solar-ready' rooftops: HDB

Channel NewsAsia 1 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: All public housing blocks from May this year will be designed with "solar-ready" roofs, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) said on Friday (Sep 1).

The blocks will come with features that enable solar panels to be easily mounted and maintained, in a move to harness solar energy to power common estate services in HDB developments, the agency said in a press release.

The initiative will apply to public housing blocks with at least 400 sqm of open roof space after setting aside space needed for essential services such as water tanks, water pumps and lift rooms.

This will enable more productive and efficient installation of solar panels on HDB rooftops, it added.

According to HDB, it takes 25 days to install solar panels on a solar-ready roof, compared to 40 days to retrofit existing blocks.

The manpower costs for installation are also more than 40 per cent lower for these solar-ready roofs, it said.

HDB explained that in older blocks, installation of solar panels on rooftops would require retrofitting and construction works, including re-wiring the building to link the solar panels to the switch room.

The space available for installation of solar panel installation is also limited by the placement of the essential block services and the overall design of the roof space.

As a result, more time would be needed to assess where to place the solar panels so that the amount of sunlight received can be maximised while not obstructing maintenance access to the essential block services.

In comparison, the new “plug-and-play” approach to solar panel installation reduces the time and labour required to install solar panels, the statutory board said.

This announcement comes after the successful pilot of solar-ready roofs at six residential blocks at Punggol Edge, which was completed in June last year.

As of this month, a total of 18 HDB projects have already been designed with solar-ready roofs, HDB said.

The projects include West Plains @ Butkit Batok, Tampines GreenView and Woodleigh Glen at Bidadari.

Future HDB projects to have solar-ready roofs to save installation costs and time
Today Online 1 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE — All future public housing blocks with at least 400 sqm of open roof space will be designed with solar-ready roofs, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) announced on Friday (Sept 1), as part of plans to harness solar energy to power common estate services.

What this means is that HDB blocks will come inbuilt with features to enable solar panels to be easily mounted and maintained for future use, said the HDB in a statement.

The move comes following successful trials. In May 2012, Punggol Edge, a Build-to-Order development was the first to be designed with solar-ready roof, which allowed solar panels to be seamlessly installed on the roofs of six residential blocks in June 2016.

The pilot was further extended to 27 blocks at Punggol Northshore (Northshore Residences I and II and Waterfront I and II) in April 2016.

Making the roofs solar-ready will minimise the need for hacking and rewiring works when solar panels are installed, with the electrical infrastructure and trunks catered for in the building stages, HDB added.

Currently, installing solar panels on existing rooftops may require retrofitting and construction works, especially for older HDB blocks.

With such a "plug-and-play" approach, the HDB said about 25 days are required for the installation of solar panels on a solar-ready roof, compared to 40 days required to retrofit existing blocks.

Manpower cost for installation is also expected to be reduced by more than 40 per cent.

As of August, 18 HDB projects around Punggol, Bukit Batok, Sengkang, Hougang, Bedok, Kallang, Bidadari and Tampines have been designed with solar-ready roofs.

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Malaysia: Palm oil company FGV to restore over 1,000ha of rainforest in West Kalimantan

MEI MEI CHU The Star 31 Aug 17;

PETALING JAYA: Palm oil company Felda Global Ventures Holding Berhad (FGV) has agreed to restore more than 1,000ha of peat forest in West Kalimantan after coming under pressure for its unsustainable deforestation.

Reports from environmental organisations Greenpeace and Chain Reaction Research had criticised FGV’s rapid deforestation, especially in high conservation value forest, that is said to be a violation of Indonesia’s no-peat development law.

Among the issues raised were FGV’s violations of its own sustainability policy, labour exploitation at plantations, and the forest fires that caused the 2015 haze crisis.

“In response to the article that was published by Chain Reaction Research in their April and May bulletins, we engaged with our various stakeholders to obtain feedback on our Group Sustainability Policy,” FGV officer-in-charge Datuk Khairil Anuar Aziz told The Star Thursday.

He said the policy was revised on Aug 25, 2017 to reflect FGV’s commitment to support its stakeholders’ No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation Policy, which prohibits the development of peatland.

FGV’s revised policy pledges no deforestation, no conversion of high conservation value areas, no new planting on peatland irrespective of depth or when the peatland was acquired, and to immediately stop all new development of peatlands.

Additionally, the policy commits to rehabilitating the peatlands developed after the policy’s approval and to continue with community programmes in the neighbouring areas of PT Temila Agro Abadi and PT Cita Niaga Perkasa in Kalimantan.

FGV, a subsidiary of Felda, is the world’s largest palm oil producer.

According to Greenpeace South-East Asia, the is the first time a palm oil company has been pressured by its stakeholders to restore the forest it cleared.

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Malaysia: LED lights being used to prevent elephants destroying crops

TN Alagesh New Straits Times 1 Sep 17;

KUANTAN: After digging trenches and putting up solar-powered electric fences, the state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has introduced an unique solution to keep elephants from encroaching human settlements.

LED lights are being utilised to prevent rampaging elephants from destroying farmer's crops. The method which was introduced in Kuala Medang in Lipis several months ago has shown promising results.

State Perhilitan director Ahmad Azhar Mohammad said the solar-powered LED (light-emitting diodes) bulbs had resulted in a 90 per cent drop in elephant encroachment into agricultural land or villages during the night.

"The technique was first used in Pahang and so far 30 units have been installed. The method will be expanded to other conflict areas and we are looking into further improving the technique.

"Sadly, some irresponsible individuals have been removing the LED lights and this is a setback to the department's efforts to prevent the mammals from destroying farms and fruits trees. I hope villagers will cooperate with Perhilitan to tackle the problems," he said today.

The LED bulbs are tied to wooden poles so that elephants can see them from a distance.

It was learnt that elephants keep away from getting close to flashing lights instead of fixed or powerful lights.

Each LED unit has a built-in solar charger thus making the lights maintenance free, low cost and can be setup with minimum support.

It was learnt that the LED method, which was widely used in farms in India, was still in the early stages of its implementation in Pahang and farmers were keen to learn about the method.

Perhilitan had previously deployed various efforts to minimise the elephant threats including building solar-powered fences which deliver jolts of up to 12 kilovolts, digging trenches, and carrying out the capture and relocate programme.

On a separate matter, Ahmad Azhar said the herd of elephants spotted walking in an oil palm plantation in Kota Gelanggi, Jerantut several days ago was believed to have been separated into two groups.

"The herd was walking along their usual track towards its habitat but upon noticing a group of people watching them from a bridge, two of the elephants separated and were believed to have returned towards the village.

"Although people were standing far away it makes our job to chase the animals back to their habitat more difficult and might now require more time," he said, referring to the incident on Aug 29 where several motorists stopped their vehicles upon spotting the elephants walking below the bridge.

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Thailand seizes 136 smuggled live pangolins

Prapan Chankaew Reuters 31 Aug 17;

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai customs have confiscated 136 live pangolins, the world’s most poached animal, and 450 kg (992 lb) of pangolin scales worth 2.5 million baht ($75,000), officials said on Thursday.

Authorities managed to intercept the smuggled pangolins which entered Thailand from Malaysia late on Wednesday after a tip-off.

Director-general of Thai Customs Department, Kulit Sombatsiri, said the market value and demand of the animals and their body parts remained high, which drove smuggling.

“The smugglers keep doing this because the payment is so high and there are lots of demand for the consumption of these wild animals,” Kulit said.

Found only in Asia and Africa, the largely solitary and nocturnal pangolin, or “scaly anteater”, is in high demand in countries like China and Vietnam, with their meat considered a delicacy and their scales used in folk remedies for ailments such as asthma, rheumatism and arthritis.

A pangolin walks during a news conference after Thai customs confiscated 136 live pangolins, in Bangkok, Thailand August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Prapan Chankaew
The 136 pangolins would be taken to a conservation area under the care of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

A pangolin walks during a news conference after Thai customs confiscated 136 live pangolins, in Bangkok, Thailand August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Prapan Chankaew
Thailand is a major transit point for the trade in endangered species to other Asian countries and Pangolins and their scales are usually smuggled to Vietnam and China.

Since the beginning of the year, Thai authorities have seized more than 2.9 tonnes of smuggled pangolins and their scales, according to the Thai Customs Department.

A ban on global trade of pangolins took effect in January after tougher international protection was agreed last September for the eight species of the mammal, which curls up in a ball when threatened by predators.

All eight of the world’s species of pangolin, which range from 30 to 100 cm in length, are threatened with extinction.

Reporting by Prapan Chankaew and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Writing by Panu Wongcha-um

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Saving olive ridley turtles of the Indian Ocean

Richard Aspinall talks to Martin Stelfox from the Olive Ridley project about protecting one of the world’s smallest turtles from ‘ghost fishing’ in the Maldives
Richard Aspinall The Guardian 31 Aug 17;

One of the world’s smallest turtle (some sources claim smallest is Kemp’s ridley) is also the most abundant, yet to me, it seems to be the hardest to find! I’ve dived on reefs across the tropics, with camera in hand, and have yet to encounter a single olive ridley. I’ve seen scores of hawksbills and greens, and even a few loggerheads, but the olive ridley, with its distinctive heart-shaped shell is an animal I’ve only come across in rescue centres. Is there a reason why turtles are facing different threats, based upon their species? Or is it more complicated than that? I reached out to Martin Stelfox, Founder of the Olive Ridley project (ORP).

“Olive ridleys are extremely rare to encounter when snorkelling or diving,” Stelfox told me, and I couldn’t help but agree, they are notable by their absence on the Maldivian reefs, so beloved of holidaymakers and researchers alike. Green turtles, such as the population at a wellknown diving spot called Kuredu Caves, are easily studied and even part of the ORP ID programme. Each turtle has a unique set of markings on the cheek and carapace, scuba divers can upload their turtle photos to add new individuals to the list and, get to name them too. Seeing greens or hawksbills while diving in the Maldives is pretty much the norm. The olives are much harder to find.

“Olives tend to be oceanic in nature, meaning they spend a considerable amount of time in deep water, foraging in deep habitats, looking for benthic organisms such as crabs and lobsters,” Stelfox says. He confirms my experience: hawksbills and greens favour shallower reef habitats. Primarily hawksbill turtles feed on sponges, with adult greens grazing on sea grass beds in the shallows. I have heard dive guides say that the less ecologically-minded resorts in the region will remove the sea grass meadows, which jeopardise the “white sand and turquoise seas” reputation of the resorts.

Is this why olives are at risk from entanglement in discarded fishing nets? Is it their life spent roaming further and in more open water that puts them at risk?

“In the Maldives, the majority of turtles we see entangled in floating ‘ghost’ nets are the olive ridleys. However, depending on the location and fisheries operating, this changes by region. For instance, fishing gear that is heavy and gets caught on coral reefs may be more likely to entangle greens or hawksbills. It’s just that olives are oceanic, putting them at a greater risk of interacting with floating debris, including ‘ghost gear’.”

Coming across discarded fishing gear, either under or below the surface is sobering. These pictures show a mass of old net, rope, cement bags and assorted plastic rubbish, tangled into a mass that has potentially wandered the ocean for months. This mass was brought to shore and disposed of by a nearby dive centre. Two turtles were cut free, the remains of two others were found, all were olive ridleys.

Stelfox, who is completing a PhD on the impact of ghost gear in the Maldives at the University of Derby, suggests it’s hard to estimate just how much debris is in the Indian Ocean. “There are very few studies currently underway,” he said. “Giving estimates of gear loss is also a difficult task. We cannot estimate right now, in 2009 the UN estimated around 640,000 tons of gear is lost globally every year, and the figure does not include gear loss from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.”

He says “ghost fishing” is not the only threat to olive ridleys; all species of turtle are at risk from ingestion of plastic debris. In the Maldives ghost nets appear to be the major threat to olive ridleys, but in the wider Indian Ocean this may not be the case.

“Bycatch is an issue that may be responsible for increased mortality rates of olives, however ghost gear has not yet been quantified in the region, so it is hard to say. The difficulty with estimating mortality rates from ghost gear is that most of the time the events go unnoticed and may happen out at sea.”

Add the threats to nesting areas from development and you have a combination of factors. Stelfox identifies coastal development on the east coast of India as severely threatening the species, despite the turtles’ schedule 1 status under Indian conservation law. “Despite protection there is little enforcement,” he adds.

Given the threats from discarded fishing gear, I asked which fisheries, if any, should consumers avoid? Should we consider eating less fish?

“The most important steps consumers can take is to become educated on the fisheries they are buying into and understand where fish comes from before buying it. If you cannot trace your fish back to a specific fishery or country, or you are unsure how the fish was caught, then you should avoid making the purchase. The majority of fish caught using nets will likely also contribute to the ghost net and bycatch problem to some degree.”

Stelfox says millions of people rely on fishing for their main source of protein. To help reduce the amount of discarded fishing gear in the oceans he suggests buying fish caught using pole and line methods. “You can be sure the bycatch and ghost net production are minimised. As consumers, we have the power to protect our fisheries and stock levels, and we should also seek to reduce the amount of fish we consume if we are in the position to do so.”

Find out more about the Olive Ridley project

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Destruction of environment, overpopulation top risks for mankind, say top scientists

RUMI HARDASMALANI Today Online 31 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE — The two greatest threats facing mankind are environment destruction and overpopulation, according to a survey that polled 50 Nobel prize-winning scientists by the Times Higher Education at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

The poll was conducted in a series of annual conferences in Bavaria and released yesterday.

The resurgence of populism and the polarisation of politics were also cited as the most worrying trends today.

Some 40 per cent call these twin phenomena a “grave threat” to scientific progress, while 30 per cent say that they are a “serious threat”.

Just 5 per cent (two respondents) are entirely unconcerned, while 25 per cent perceive a “moderate threat”, reported the Times Higher Education.

Nuclear war, misinformation, drug-resistant diseases, artificial intelligence and Facebook were among the other phenomena regarded by the 50 Nobel laureates as serious risks, said the report.

At a forum here organised by Swiss bank UBS on Wednesday, four Nobel laureates in economic sciences echoed similar concerns.

The Nobel laureates were addressing more than 1,000 university students from across Singapore as they debated a wide range of topics from labour markets and the changing employment landscape, to financial risk and social systems.

Dr Peter Diamond of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who won the Nobel prize in 2010 for his work on labour markets, noted that climate change will greatly exacerbate the challenges in dealing with the world’s migration problems.

Highlighting cyber war as another emerging threat, he added: “We are scrambling to build defences against cyber crime. It is going to shake things up … with the astonishing rate of growth of biology, there is a lot of talk about ethical concerns associated with bio-terrorism. The more biology is understood, technology makes it easier and cheaper to experiment,” added Dr Diamond.

Dr Michael Spence of NYU Stern, who received the Nobel Prize in 2001 for research on the dynamics of information flow and market development, agreed that cyber security and the role of technology would become more urgent in the future economy.

“It is not about the machines per se. It’s about us, and our interaction with the machine,” said Dr Spence.

He added that rules are needed to monitor new risks that come about with increased use of technology and cyber systems.

Responding to concerns raised by students at the forum about the lack of jobs in the future economy, the scientists had reassuring words for Singapore’s youth.

“Pursue your passion. Whatever you are doing, if you love what you do, don’t be afraid,” said Dr Robert Merton, who won the Nobel prize in 1997 for his research on financial theory.

While transitioning from information absorbers to active participants in businesses and economies, the future generation must have the ability to adapt to changes with a readiness to develop new skills and learn as they fail, he added.

“Remember there are alternatives and think about your current position as an experiment to be able to evaluate,” said Dr Diamond.

According to Dr Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2007 for the foundation of mechanism design theory, Singapore is well-positioned for the future.

“You can go to China, to India, to the Middle East, and to the English-speaking world. All of those traditions and cultures come together here. You are developing more awareness of the world that will enable you to make connections with people all over the world.

“That is a tremendous advantage as you develop your careers and grow the country.”

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