Best of our wild blogs: 2 Sep 17

Toddycats @ Public Libraries in September for “Friends of the Forest”

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St John's Island launches first curated trail, guided tours

Deborah Wong Channel NewsAsia 2 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: The first curated trail at St John's Island was officially launched on Saturday (Sep 2), along with free guided tours led by trained volunteers.

The 2.8km trail, which starts at the entrance of the main jetty, has 15 stations marked out with signboards. Visitors will see coastal forests and coral reefs, and may spot birds such as the great-billed heron, reptiles such as the gold-ringed cat snake and the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, according to the National Parks Board (NParks), which is organising the tours.

During low tide, visitors can walk along the intertidal flat at the lagoon and look out for sea stars, sea cucumbers, crabs and marine snails. The trail also brings visitors to the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre, where visitors can learn about local marine life.

The free guided tour will cover 1.6km and take visitors to 14 stations on the trail. It takes around 90 minutes to complete, and up to 45 people can take part in each tour. A map is available on NParks' website for those who want to explore the trail on their own.

The tours will take place on the first weekend of every month starting in October. Registration begins this Sunday at 2pm via the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park website.

“The centre of gravity of our conservation approach cannot be to keep people away from nature,” said Mr Desmond Lee, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, at the event.

“Instead, we want to instill a sense of wonder and appreciation among Singaporeans for our blue and green areas.”


New exhibits were also launched on Saturday at the Sisters’ Island Marine Park Public Gallery on St John’s Island.

The new exhibits include live specimens in a viewing pool, a mangrove mesocosm to study ecosystem behaviours, as well as a virtual reality experience for an immersive "dive" tour around the marine park.

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery first opened in 2015, while the marine park was designated in 2014. The marine park spans 40 hectares, encompassing Sisters' Islands, the western reefs of St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor.

The region was chosen for its rich biodiversity and conservation efforts aim to enhance the marine habitat there, NParks said.

More features are expected to be added in the next two years, such as a boardwalk on Big Sisters' Island, an intertidal walk as well as a floating pontoon.

Regular ferry services to St John’s Island departing from Marina South Pier are available twice a day on weekdays and up to five times a day on weekends and public holidays.
Source: CNA/cy

New trail on St John's island marking out its history and vast biodiversity
Kok Xing Hui Straits Times 2 Sep 17;
SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) is beefing up offerings on idyllic St John's Island by launching a 2.8 km trail marking out its history, natural habitats and vast biodiversity.

On Saturday (Sept 2), Second Minister for National Development and Home Affairs Desmond Lee launched the new trail, along with other features, at St John's Island, which is located approximately 6.5 km to the south of the main island of Singapore.

The trail includes 15 stations and will take visitors through various eco-systems on the island, including mangroves, coastal forests and intertidal zones.

Wildlife in the area include hawksbill turtles, Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, the Great-billed Heron, and many heritage trees.

"The centre of gravity of our conservation approach cannot be to keep people away from nature. Instead, we want to instill a sense of wonder and appreciation among Singaporeans for our blue and green areas," said Mr Lee.

Exhibits at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery on St John's Island - once a quarantine centre for new migrants with infectious diseases - have also been given a new lease of life.

The centre, which receives more than 100 visitors a month, now has a 5m-long mangrove mesocosm, a tank that holds wildlife known to mangroves and also mimics the actual tides in the mangrove.

There are also aquarium tanks showing corals and giant clams, and a 2m-long viewing pool with sea anemones, starfishes and clown fishes.

Mr Lee also announced the formation of the friends of the Marine Park community, comprising boaters, divers, scientists, fishermen and more, who will work on projects to conserve the island.

For example, the community will see dive professionals helping to maintain the dive trail and developing guidelines for kayakers entering the park.

Visitors to St John's Island can get there on a 30-minute ferry from Marina South Pier which departs every two hours from 9am-3pm on Saturdays, and from 9am-5pm on Sundays. On weekdays, the ferry runs at 10am and 2pm.

Wildlife, history part of new trail on St John's Island
2.8km trail has signboards and covers various ecosystems such as mangroves, coastal forests
Kok Xing Hui Straits Times 3 Sep 17;

Primary school pupil Leah Thorpe, 11, spent yesterday morning walking around St John's Island with her mother and sister, listening to stories about the island's history, habitats and wildlife.

The family was one of the first to walk along a new island trail curated by the National Parks Board (NParks).

Leah's mother, housewife Olivia Tay, 47, said the tour was very informative, while Leah piped up that her favourite part of the trail was the pufferfish in the mangrove exhibit.

"And the kapok trees, the bugs and the cats along the way," she said.

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NParks launched the island trail yesterday. It is 2.8km long with signboards along the trail to tell visitors about the island.

The trail's 15 stations take visitors through various ecosystems on the island, including mangroves, coastal forests and intertidal zones. Wildlife in the area include hawksbill turtles, Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, great- billed herons and many heritage trees.

At the launch, Second Minister for National Development and Home Affairs Desmond Lee said he was happy about this development on St John's Island, which is located about 6.5km south of the main island of Singapore.

"The centre of gravity of our conservation approach cannot be to keep people away from nature. Instead, we want to instil a sense of wonder and appreciation among Singaporeans for our green and blue areas," he said.

Alongside the trail is a new volunteer-run guided walk that will take 45 guests around St John's Island on a 90-minute tour. This will be on the first weekend of every month, starting from next month.

Meanwhile, exhibits at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery on St John's Island - once a quarantine centre for new migrants with infectious diseases - have also been given a new lease of life.

The centre, which receives more than 100 visitors a month, now has a 5m-long mangrove mesocosm, a tank that holds wildlife found in mangroves. The tank can also mimic the actual tides in the mangroves.

There are also aquariums featuring corals and giant clams, a 2m-long viewing pool with sea anemones, starfish and clown fish, and a virtual-reality headset that takes viewers on a dive.

Aquariums at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery

Mr Lee also announced the formation of the Friends of the Marine Park community, which includes boaters, divers, scientists and fishermen, who will work on projects to conserve the island.

For example, dive professionals will help to maintain the dive trail and develop guidelines for kayakers entering the park.

Visitors to St John's Island can get there via a 30-minute ferry ride from Marina South Pier that departs every two hours from 9am to 3pm on Saturdays, and from 9am to 5pm on Sundays. On weekdays, the ferry departs at 10am and 2pm.

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EIAs: Enigmas in Action?

Natalia Huang For The Straits Times 2 Sep 17;

It's time to assess the Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA. How much of it is relevant in a Singapore context, for example?

It is exciting that Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee has announced the strengthening of Singapore's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.

In June, he said: "We are seeing how we can strengthen the EIA process, taking on board all the lessons that we picked up in the last few EIAs - improving baseline survey methodology, understanding of Singapore's perspective and situation."

Mr Lee's comments followed two high-profile developments - the Cross Island Line and the Mandai eco-tourism hub - for which EIAs were done by international consultancy Environmental Resources Management.

Here are some observations about the process and what more can be done, especially in the Singapore context.


When is an EIA legally required in Singapore? Never, if it is related to plants and wildlife. There are EIA laws for potential pollution, but none for any impact on nature. So why are EIAs undertaken at all?

First, because there are stringent behind-the-scenes government requirements. For example, the National Parks Board will request an EIA if the proposed development is within a certain proximity of nature reserves.

Second, because of public outcry. An EIA can be conducted simply because of concerns over public reactions.

However, the current practice does not offer equal or transparent treatment of developments. No one really knows if a development will need an EIA as there are no explicit policies or guidance. Presumably, the lack of an EIA law in Singapore was to ensure that development would not be restricted - understandable given the need to grow and land scarcity.

The very same reason now necessitates an EIA law, or at least a fully transparent EIA framework, to ensure that scarce land and natural resources are managed and cared for properly.


An effective EIA is one that provides the best possible information for the authorities to assess the impact of a development and thus impose measures to minimise it.

What is the best possible information for an EIA and how do we gather that information?

The scope is the first opportunity to define this. Unfortunately, scopes vary across projects in Singapore, and these could be shaped by guidance statements.

EIA guidance statements are published by government departments across the world - but not in Singapore. These outline the methods for collecting the best possible information for EIAs. Without guidelines, Singapore consultants are left to decide for themselves what is needed.


Information on plants and animals that depend on a site can be collected in two ways - desktop studies based on previously published articles and books, and field studies that involve surveying plants and animals on-site.

In some cases, in-depth field studies might not be necessary. For example, if an area has been extensively studied before, a thorough literature review would provide more helpful information than a month of field surveys. In Singapore, nearly every inch has recent and historical data, so desktop studies must be part of EIAs. What is needed is an open-source repository for all ecological data.

A scientist who understands the scientific method should decide what information to collect and how to collect it, as that must be tailored to the type of development and the nature of the environment. This is arguably the most important aspect of an EIA. If not enough information or the wrong kind is collected, there is a risk that important environmental aspects could be overlooked and the impact on them might not be minimised.

Given the short timeframe and limited budget of EIAs, one must be strategic in collecting relevant information. Field studies should focus on conservation (such as significant species, habitat quality, and areas of importance for plants and wildlife) and ecological processes (such as seed dispersal, population fragmentation, species interactions, hydro-ecology and connectivity to nearby forests).

If monitoring is expected to follow the development, the methods used for the EIA field studies must be designed in such a way that they are replicable and suitable for comparison.


This is a bit of a cowboy industry, with no regulations governing who can do an EIA or its studies.

As EIAs require an understanding of plants and animals and their interactions, the studies must be done by scientific experts in the field. On one project, there was a hydrologist - someone who studies water - who was told to study plants and wildlife for an EIA. Plants should be studied by botanists, animals by zoologists, and a combination of these by ecologists and biologists.

Surveys should be carried out by scientists with a good understanding of nature in Singapore as well as the peculiar needs of an EIA.

Environmental consultants need a certification and accreditation scheme. In order for arborists - tree experts - to practise, they need to be certified and registered, and they must undergo annual professional training. The same could be applied to EIA consultants.


Where Singapore excels in relation to other countries is in public consultation, at least for recent major EIAs, where nature groups have been consulted throughout the EIA and construction process. Public consultation aims to identify the public's interests and gain feedback to improve the project, and also to foster public understanding of the project.

Where Singapore can improve is in engaging more scientists and academics in the process, as they are the ones who can provide objective scientific information based on research and experience.

Passion without knowledge is like a blindfolded warrior swinging a sharp sword. Remove the blindfolds by engaging scientists and facilitating workshops that encourage knowledge-sharing, and as a way to encourage input from less outspoken experts.

Scientists also need to recognise the realities of the development process, where timeframes are limited and practical decisions need to be made based on little information. We can learn from other countries that have been fine-tuning their EIA processes for years, and create a system that works for us, for the future of Singapore's environment.

The writer is principal ecologist at Ecology Matters, a consultancy providing ecological advice and biodiversity studies for environmental impact assessments.

No need for new law on environmental assessments
Straits Times 7 Sep 17;

Ms Natalia Huang has called for stronger engagement with scientists in shaping the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, and argued in favour of an EIA law or a fully transparent EIA framework (EIAs: Enigmas in Action?; Sept 2).

Singapore is already under some legal obligation to undertake EIAs.

In the famous case concerning pulp mills on the Uruguay River, the International Court of Justice ruled in 2010 that all countries are legally obliged to undertake an EIA before projects like this are authorised.

The Court left it to individual countries to determine the details of conducting an EIA.

It is not inevitable that Singapore must embrace "hard" laws in the form of a statute.

Codes of conduct can be developed after consultations between public and private stakeholders. An example of this is the Building and Construction Authority's Code of Accessibility in the Built Environment.

A "soft" law approach in strengthening EIA processes has its benefits.

While the code of conduct need not be legally binding, it can be useful in urging private stakeholders to employ some of the best international practices of EIAs.

There are already laws here which govern the actions of private stakeholders. These can be adjusted to encourage buy-in, such as making compliance with the laws a condition for permit renewals.

Ultimately, the Government must retain its legal flexibility to make decisions that advance our collective interests.

Daniel Seah Chin Aun

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NTU 3D-prints greener 'concrete'

Uni cements study with sustainable material from coal-burning process
Samantha Boh Straits Times 2 Sep 17;

The last bits left over from burning coal - fly ash - could one day be used in the structures of buildings.

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have successfully 3D-printed a material that resembles concrete by combining fly ash, steel slag - a by-product of the steel-making process - and some chemicals, the identity of which is a trade secret.

Research papers on the process of creating and 3D-printing the new material were published in scientific journals Cleaner Production and Materials Letters recently.

The project has been in the making for two years, said lead researcher Tan Ming Jen from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The team faced challenges such as determining the optimal flow rate of the material and how fast it sets before pinning down the exact steps.

The material is 3D-printed layer by layer. Hence, the rate at which the material flows and sets will determine if the layers can fuse together properly.

Huge amounts of the by-product from coal burning are produced each day as it remains deeply ingrained in the energy production activities of some countries such as China.

But while the study used fly ash from an Indian coal power plant, the technology could potentially also be applied to recycled glass and possibly fly ash produced at local waste-to-energy plants from burning trash, the researchers said.

The wide usage of such a material, if made from incinerator fly ash in future, could channel waste away from Singapore's only landfill in Pulau Semakau, potentially prolonging its lifespan, which is currently expected to end by 2035.

Associate Professor Tan said the material could help cut the construction industry's carbon footprint.

Concrete is a highly environmentally unfriendly but widely used synthetic material whose manufacture alone is responsible for about 5 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Large amounts of carbon dioxide are released in the process of creating concrete, which involves mining and transporting the raw materials, to heating them to over 1,400 deg C in a kiln, and the subsequent chemical process of turning limestone into small rocks of cement.

The printed material is as strong as plain concrete. But the researchers are looking at how it can be strengthened to make it a suitable substitute for reinforced concrete.

Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo said 3D printing is still a rather new concept to the construction industry.

How well such a material is accepted by the sector will largely depend on its cost, he said. New materials often cost more at first due to the lack of economies of scale. But this problem will ease as demand grows. "It just like green buildings. They were previously more expensive but as time went by, acceptance went up and the supply within the industry increased, resulting in a fall in the premium for such buildings," he said.

He added that the possibility of a material which recycles by-products as an alternative to cement would be welcomed. "Social responsibility has grown in our industry, people are more aware and willing to embrace 'greener' products."

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Food waste: Food for thought for students

10 schools join move to cut waste by turning it into compost; assembly talks on topic held
Samantha Boh Straits Times 2 Sep 17;

As he slid plastic gloves onto his hands, 11-year-old Ray Yap inspected the large containers of dirty plates, bowls and cutlery lined up beside him on trolleys.

Then he frowned. He had spotted a plate with leftover food on it.

Ray had been tasked with an important mission a month ago: help his school Greendale Primary cut its food waste.

That plate reminded him that he needed to redouble his efforts at the next recess starting at 9.45am.

For the next half-hour, Ray and his friends Kellyn Loh, 10, and Triparna Poddar, 11, stationed themselves beside the plastic containers, reminding pupils to dump their leftovers into special green bins.

The three pupils, members of the environmental science club, held the bins open for their peers, and even helped to pick up food which had fallen on the floor.

The leftover food will later be turned into compost using a food-waste digester, in a process that takes about 10 hours.

10%: What food waste accounts for out of total waste generated in Singapore.
14%: The amount of food waste that is recycled here.
790K: The weight in tonnes of food wasted last year - about two bowls of rice per person a day.

Greendale Primary's environmental education adviser, Mr Edwin Chee, 41, a science teacher, said the school started a food-waste reduction programme last month.

It is among 10 primary and secondary schools that were leased food-waste digesters by the National Environment Agency (NEA) for two years under the Love Your Food @ Schools Project. The machines were installed in May.

Food waste accounts for about 10 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore, but only 14 per cent is recycled.

Last year, more than 790,000 tonnes of food was wasted - equivalent to two bowls of rice per person a day.

As of last month, all 10 schools have introduced programmes to reduce food waste. These include assembly talks on the topic and recycling food waste using the digester.

At Greendale Primary, members of the environmental science club and Primary 5 and 6 pupils are rostered to participate in the programme, which also involves weighing the food waste collected at the end of every recess.

A teacher will then pour the waste into a food-waste digester, which uses microbes to convert it into compost, to be used to fertilise the school's gardens.

Canteen vendors also chip in by segregating their food waste. They also ask pupils if they want smaller portions.

Said Mr Chee: "Changing the mindset and habits of pupils and staff was an initial challenge and we had an uphill task to get them involved... but there has definitely been improvement and the evidence is in the food waste collected."

The school has cut the amount of food waste it generates daily from 17.9kg to less than 10kg.

Similarly, Dunman High School has reduced the amount of food waste it produces from 20kg to 16kg per week since last month.

At Dunman, the programme is led by a class of Year 4 students through the school's values-in-action programme, where students put core values into action through community service.

The students put up food waste-reduction posters around the school and continually encourage their peers to segregate their food waste. They are also mentoring Year 2 students to help weigh and then deposit the discarded food into the food-waste digester.

The compost is used on school grounds and also shared with St Hilda's Community Services Centre, which caters to the elderly.

Siah Bing Ze, 15, who is chairman of the class, said the experience has taught him that even small actions mean something.

"I didn't know I could make a difference, even impact an entire school," he said.

NEA said it hopes the project will encourage other schools to kick-start their own food waste-reduction initiatives. It added that it will consider relocating and leasing some of the food-waste digesters to other schools for another two years, after the current project ends.

But for now, those involved are happy to do their part to cut food waste, even if it means sometimes getting their hands dirty.

Ray from Greendale Primary said it is an interesting process where he gets to learn about recycling.

His fellow environmental science club member Triparna added: "Maybe over time, we won't need to remind our friends to separate their food waste any more."

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Malaysia: Trash Hero Borneo is asking for help to clean up Sabah beaches

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 1 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A non-governmental organisation is taking baby steps in encouraging participation from the public to look after the environment around them, in particular the beaches here.

Trash Hero Borneo co-founder Monica Chin said she has been actively involved in helping to keep the beaches clean since joining the Trash Hero organisation in Krabi, Thailand, three years ago.

Recently, Trash Hero Borneo has been focusing their attention on the beaches at Tanjung Lipat and Tanjung Aru.

“Our city beach is full of trash and on average we collect around 200kg of rubbish per week.

“If our beach is full of trash, those lying and stuck in the seabed could be double or triple (that amount) and it will have a very bad effect to marine life especially the coral reef,” she said, adding that anyone can join in their weekly activity.

Chin, a scuba diver who hails from Kota Belud, said there was a good response from the locals in her hometown but public here had yet to be receptive to the idea of picking up rubbish with their own hands.

She added currently there were 35 dedicated volunteers aged between 7 and 55 joining the activity.

“Tourists, who jog at Tanjung Lipat, are keener to join when they see us cleaning the place.

“We hope our action can create more attention and people will learn to love our ocean and nature,” Chin said, adding she was optimistic that more people would join this cause.

The organisation also holds talks at schools and villages on conservation topics.

Coming up next will be a Kudat coastal clean-up on Sept 16. You can also follow the Trash Hero Borneo Facebook page the find out the next clean-up location.

Trash Hero group cleans up waterfront area
BRANDON JOHN New Straits Times 11 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: There was an unusual sight in Tanjung Lipat, the State capital’s popular waterfront area here yesterday.

Alongside couples taking romantic walks and families lounging under the afternoon sun were scores of people happily combing the sandy beaches for rubbish.

Many donned a yellow t-shirt proclaiming themselves as a 'Trash Hero'.

It was a fitting name for individuals selflessly taking it upon themselves to keeping our beaches trash-free.
The leader Monica Chin said they started out with six to 10 people in their first initiative here in Sabah and now there were 125 volunteers.

Monica is the co-founder of Trash Hero Borneo, which is a local chapter of the international non-governmental organisation. During her travels in Thailand in 2014, she was amazed by the fact that everywhere she went, Trash Hero volunteers were tidying the places.

"I thought, why not start this in Sabah?" she said, embarking on various environmental talks and gathering supporters before finally launching the chapter's first cleanup operation in March.

But not all the volunteers at Tanjung Lipat were locals. Swiss national Roman Peter stuck out like a sore thumb with his towering height and sandy brown hair.

Roman in fact is the co-founder of the original Trash Hero World that has taken the world by storm - with nothing more than plastic bags and a willing pair of hands.

"We could take pictures of the rubbish, show them to people and say 'someone should clean this up! This is someone's job!'

"But that is not true. This is everyone's job," said Roman, who was visiting Sabah for the first time to personally take part in the beach cleanup.

In just a little over three years, Trash Hero has evolved from a small project into 42 chapters worldwide.

"Trash Hero's concept is that we do not blame anyone, or just simply talk about problems. We want to provide solutions and actions because ultimately, actions speak louder than words.

"Furthermore, we are not getting any money from this as it is fully supported and funded by the volunteers and local communities themselves," said Roman, who believes this was the reason for the NGO's success.

At the end of the day, rubbish weighing a total of 252 kilogrammes was collected from Tanjung Lipat - a proud achievement for the passionate group, which consisted of Trash Hero crew members, students, and other volunteers.

While Trash Hero has undeniably made an impact here, many more Malaysians will need to contribute in order to ensure that the environment stays clean.

For those interested in volunteering, check out Trash Hero Borneo's facebook page (, where they post the latest updates on their next cleanup activity.

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