Best of our wild blogs: 15 Sep 17

Singapore Bird Report – August 2017
Singapore Bird Group

Pulau Jong Intertidal Survey Trip
Offshore Singapore

Friends of the Forest library booths – we did it!
Love our MacRitchie Forest

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Two fatal collisions in a month raise maritime safety concerns

Karamjit Kaur Straits Times 15 Sep 17;

Safety or operational gaps must be addressed in Singapore's push to be major maritime hub
Twelve sailors have died and another three are feared dead, after two separate fatal collisions in the Singapore Strait.

That the accidents occurred within a month - on Aug 21 and Sept 13 - have raised safety concerns, especially since the Republic has plans to further its push to be a major maritime hub.

Every year, there are about 130,000 vessel calls at the Port of Singapore. It translates to a vessel arriving or leaving every two to three minutes, making Singapore's sea lanes one of the world's busiest. With plans for a new port at Tuas, which will be able to handle even more and bigger ships when it opens in phases from 2021, Singapore waters will become busier and more challenging to navigate.

But before that happens, safety or other operational gaps that may exist, must be quickly addressed to ensure incident-free passage for all ships calling at the Singapore port or passing through her waters.

Concerns first surfaced on Aug 21 when a United States warship, USS John S. McCain, collided with an oil tanker, killing 10 sailors. Even as Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau is in the midst of a probe into the incident, Indonesian-registered tanker Kartika Segara and Dominican- registered dredger JBB De Rong 19 were involved in an accident that has left two dead and three missing.

According to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), its Vessel Traffic Information System had alerted both vessels to take actions to avoid a collision. The information was received but disaster could not be averted.

The probe into both accidents, which happened in the early morning when visibility was reduced, will have to address key questions. Is the Singapore Strait more accident-prone than other sea lanes? If it is, are there enough measures in place to mitigate the risks? Is enough being done to drive home the safety message to ship owners and crew? Is there more the Singapore authorities can do?

To say that the Singapore Strait is busy is an "understatement", says Dr Collin Koh, research fellow at the Maritime Security Programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. "It's not just dense in traffic, but we are looking at numerous vessels of wildly varying sizes plying the same narrow water space", he pointed out, adding that navigating the lane becomes even more challenging when visibility is low. At its narrowest, ships are sometimes separated by just under one nautical mile, or about 1.85km.

To sail safely, vessels are - as mandated by international law - equipped with radar, and other monitoring and tracking devices. Regulators like MPA that manage busy waters also have state-of-the- art technology and systems in place to monitor vessel movement.

In the end though, the technology is only as good as the people using it and this is where the shipping industry faces its biggest challenge, industry players say.

There is a lack of a strong safety culture within the sector, says Captain Raymond Ambrose, president of the Singapore Nautical Institute, who has been in the industry for over 40 years. "The big problem is that the top management in some shipping firms... view safety initiatives and programmes as a cost they do not wish to incur. This mindset has to change if we want to reduce incidents at sea."

Inadequate training and poor practices, such as a lack of vigilance at sea, undermine the advances in radar and other technology.

Organisations like the naval institute and regulators can and should play a key role in getting the safety message out. Last year, MPA released The Safe Passage in the Singapore Strait package, with videos and computer-based learning programmes. The kit, distributed free to shipping firms, provides information about navigating the congested shipping lane. It was produced jointly with the maritime authorities of Indonesia and Malaysia.

More of such efforts and initiatives are needed.

When it comes to safety, the shipping industry can also learn a thing or two from the aviation sector and, in particular, how flights are handled.

In the air, air traffic controllers decide how high or low an aircraft should fly, how fast, and the distance it must keep from other planes in the vicinity. This allows safe separation even in busy skies.

At sea, there has historically been no such system. Captains and their crew rely mainly on their own experience and on-board equipment to navigate safely. MPA's vessel tracking system, for example, steps in and issues alerts only when a collision is known to be imminent. It is only when vessels are near the port that a marine pilot boards to guide the ship to berth.

With the number of ship movements in Singapore waters expected to increase, there is room for MPA to consider taking on a wider role in managing and directing vessels, even if this is not the industry norm.

Singapore can also work more closely with neighbouring regulators and agencies, as well as the International Maritime Organisation - the United Nations arm that oversees the commercial shipping sector - to increase safety awareness among industry practitioners.

While the recent incidents are unlikely to tarnish Singapore's reputation as a preferred port of call and maritime hub, improving safety standards will ensure smooth sailing for years to come.

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Double the funds for buildings to go green

BCA to offer up to $40k co-funding to help more tenants retrofit workplaces
Jose Hong Straits Times 15 Sep 17;

An incentive scheme to encourage building tenants to be more environmentally friendly will offer up to double the funds it currently gives to tenants to go green.

The Building and Construction Authority's 2014 BCA Green Mark Incentive Scheme for Existing Buildings and Premises will, from Sept 30, provide building tenants with co-funding of up to $40,000 to retrofit their workplaces to be greener. This is an increase from the current $20,000.

With the funding and BCA's help, tenants that are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will also be able to purchase an expanded list of energy-efficient equipment, such as refrigerators and air-conditioners with at least three ticks under the National Environment Agency's Mandatory Energy Labelling scheme.

These initiatives were announced yesterday by Senior Minister of State for Health and the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor at the BCA Breakfast Talk for CEOs at Marina Bay Sands.

Since 2014, four building tenants have applied for the Green Mark Incentive Scheme for Existing Buildings and Premises with up to $20,000 of co-funding from BCA. BCA chief executive Hugh Lim said it doubled the cap to allow more tenants to take advantage of the scheme.

Today, BCA will also open up 50 free slots under a new pilot initiative to help eligible SMEs judge how green they are against its Green Mark criteria. Called the Green Mark User-Centric Feasibility Assessments initiative, it will involve interns attached to BCA going to assess eligible companies, under the supervision of its officers.

Mr Lim said making buildings green would benefit tenants and owners in terms of lower energy costs. A recent study by BCA and the National University of Singapore also showed that Green Mark- certified buildings keep occupants healthier than those that are not.

Dr Khor also announced yesterday a behavioural change programme that aims to encourage building users to integrate sustainability into their lives. A partnership between BCA and the Singapore Green Building Council, the programme will involve 10 organisations over two years.

Campaign leaders from each organisation will design programmes to encourage green attitudes and actions in their building users. The National University Health System (NUHS) is the first participant and will start the programme next week.

Mr Chris Large from the non-profit Global Action Plan will serve as the consultant for the programme. He said hospitals can incorporate changes such as making sure staff turn off the room lights in the mornings and draw the curtains to let sunlight in.

Mr Ng Kian Swan, chief operating officer of Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital, which come under NUHS, said: "We do not need a big movement to get our colleagues to go green and be environmentally friendly. We just need to have the passion and conviction to champion the cause."

Dr Khor said there is also a need to get building occupants to change their behaviour. "Greening a building is only half the battle," she said. "More can be done to reduce the buildings' overall carbon footprint by placing a greater focus on encouraging the eventual users... to adopt good habits to reduce their daily energy use."

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SPCA offers S$1,000 reward for information on abandoned Pasir Ris mice

Lee Li Ying Channel NewsAsia 14 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is offering a S$1,000 reward for information on the 54 abandoned mice found at Pasir Ris Drive 4 earlier this week.

In a Facebook post on Thursday (Sep 14), the animal welfare society said that it would offer the reward for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible. It is treating the incident as a case of pet abandonment.

The mice were found by residents on Tuesday and are currently being cared for by SPCA.

When Channel NewsAsia visited SPCA’s premises at Sungei Tengah, the mice were seen in two pet cages, separated by gender. According to SPCA’s deputy executive director Selina Sebastian, the mice are in “very good condition".

“The mice are very active and they’re roaming around," she said. "Those are signs that the animal is healthy."

"But having said that, these signs are just on the surface. We will have to get the vet to give them a thorough check-up just to make sure there’s nothing else that could be wrong with them.”

The mice will be put up for adoption in the “near future” once they have given a clean bill of health.

Ms Sebastian said one possible reason why such a large number of mice was found abandoned could be that the owners had not anticipated how fast mice can breed.

“Mice are actually prolific breeders and they have a very short pregnancy span," she explained. "They can start breeding when they are six to seven weeks of age, and their gestation period is only between 19 to 21 days."

"With each litter, they can get between six to 12 babies – so you can imagine what must have happened in this situation.”

For those who own pet mice, the first thing to do to stop them from breeding would be to separate them by gender, said Ms Sebastian. Owners could also try to re-home extra animals, but this must be done in same-sex pairs.

Those with information about the mice can call SPCA’s 24-hour hotline at 6287 5355 (extension 9), or e-mail
Source: CNA/nc

54 abandoned mice found at Pasir Ris Drive 4, AVA investigating
Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore is investigating, after 54 mice were found abandoned along Pasir Ris Drive 4, it said on Wednesday (Sep 13).

The mice were found by the road on Tuesday night by Pasir Ris resident Karen Teng, who was walking her dogs with her husband when she saw a "squirming mass" on the grass. Looking closer, she realised that they were white mice.

Mdm Teng said she rushed home to get a box to round up the mice. "I think it is a cruel thing to just leave them by the road," she said.

"We were so worried some of them would get on the road and end up being run over by cars," she told Channel NewsAsia. "There are also joggers - and this place is quite dark - we were afraid that joggers might unwittingly step on them."

Several passers-by pitched in to help as well, and it took them almost two hours to round up all the mice.

They handed the mice to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

"If the mice were left here, exposed to the elements, sooner or later they would die. And all these little carcasses would become bloated, maggots would come, flies would come," Mdm Teng said. "My worry is that with time, heat and weather, the carcass would emit smell or even poisonous fumes."

When Channel NewsAsia visited the area with Mdm Teng on Wednesday, there were several dead mice on the grass verge.

There was also a trail of bread leading to the undergrowth, a short distance from the footpath. Pet bedding was also seen on the grass.

One of the joggers who had stopped to help said that she had seen two people acting suspiciously around the area at around 9.15pm on Tuesday, Mdm Teng told Channel NewsAsia.

The SPCA is treating the case as pet abandonment. It added that the rodents were not stray mice, but pinky mice, a type of mice used for laboratory tests and to feed other animals.

It added that the mice were a mix of young and old, and female and male. There were also two baby mice among them.

SPCA is appealing for more information.

The punishment for pet abandonment is up to a year in jail and a fine of up to S$10,000 for first-time offenders.

Additional reporting by Lee Li Ying
Source: CNA/aa

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Malaysia: ‘Stop logging in catchment area’ of Fraser's Hill

joash ee de silva The Star 15 Sep 17;

RAUB: An environmental group has called for a stop to all logging activity in Bukit Telaga in the forests of Fraser’s Hill, a major water catchment area and the source of two major river systems – Sg Pahang and Sg Selangor.

This came as an area about the size of two football fields was found denuded of its trees, with some 20 logs heaped in a pile on excavator tracks.

The Pahang Forestry Department later confirmed that a permit had been given for the logging.

“Our water supply comes from highland areas. If we don’t protect them, it will be affected,” said its president Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil here yesterday.

“This will increase the cost of cleaning our water supply, and also lead to natural disasters like landslides and floods,” she said.

It is believed that logging on the 100ha of land in the area will take place over a span of six months.

Shariffa Sabrina said there was also an orang asli village in Kampung Bukit Telaga which might be affected by the logging activities.

“We are asking both the state and the federal governments to permanently end all logging and deforestation around Fraser’s Hill and to gazette the area as a heritage site,” she said.

While a permit had been given for the current site, Shariffa Sabrina said Peka feared that this might be followed by more deforestation.

“We have written to the Forestry Department, and it has replied to say that all​ activity will be halted until further notice but we want this to be stopped permanently,” she said, adding that logging began about a month ago.

“We will now be the eyes and ears of Bukit Telaga and watch it like a hawk to protect Fraser’s Hill.”

When contacted, Pahang Forestry Department director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman said it would look into Peka’s request for all logging to be stopped before making a decision.

“Yes, there is a permit (for the current logging),” he said.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said he had received Peka’s letter and forwarded this to his director-general for a report.

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Indonesia: In flood-prone Jakarta, will 'Giant Sea Wall' plan sink or swim?

Thin Lei Win Reuters 14 Sep 17;

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indonesia’s bustling capital, Jakarta, is sinking faster than any other city in the world. But an ambitious plan to build a giant wall to keep out the encroaching sea has come under fire from fishermen who fear for their catches and homes, and water experts who say it doesn’t do enough to tackle land subsidence.

The city’s northern areas have sunk 4 meters (13 ft) in the past 40 years, Japanese experts say, while some ‘hot spots’ are said to be dropping as much as 20 centimeters a year.

The 10 million residents of the low-lying coastal city, built on a swampy plain, are exposed to tidal and seasonal flooding. In 2013, parts were submerged under nearly 2 meters of water after a heavy monsoon storm.

Jakarta’s vulnerability to floods - already exacerbated by population growth, urbanization and changing land use - rises with every centimeter the ground falls.

Experts and residents agree that over-extraction of groundwater for drinking and commercial use is largely responsible for the land subsidence.

What they don’t agree on is how to tackle it. An iconic infrastructure project that is supposed to ease Jakarta’s flooding woes is mired in uncertainty.

The Dutch, regarded as the foremost authorities on the concept of “living with water”, are lending their expertise via the flood prevention plan involving a giant sea wall that will close off Jakarta Bay, which could cost up to $40 billion.

Critics, however, say the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) program does not address land subsidence - the underlying reason for flooding.

At the same time, “the government is throwing away access to the sea” for tens of thousands of people in the bay who rely on fishing and fish-processing, said Ahmad Marthin Hadiwinata of the Indonesia Traditional Fisherfolk Union.

He worries that local residents will be evicted from their homes to make way for the new infrastructure.

Unveiled in 2014 - and better known as the “Great Garuda” or “Giant Sea Wall” - the project involves raising and strengthening the existing onshore embankment of Jakarta Bay, as well as constructing a 15-mile outer sea wall and developing real estate on artificial islands reclaimed from the ocean.

Seen from the air, the mega construction project was initially shaped like a garuda, the bird-god of Hindu mythology that is Indonesia’s national symbol.

But the design was changed in response to opposition and a government request to incorporate another project led by private developers to build 17 artificial islands, said Victor Coenen, Indonesia representative for Witteveen+Bos, a Dutch engineering consultancy leading the NCICD consortium.

Its partners, which also include South Korea, are now awaiting the government’s decision on the final plan, he added.

A June document outlining an updated NCICD master plan, seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, confirmed the new design and emphasized the importance of stopping land subsidence, as well as addressing water and sanitation issues.

The Ministry of National Development Planning did not respond to requests for comment.


The NCICD is one of many water projects the Dutch have embarked on in their former colony. In May, Indonesia gave the go ahead to Dutch companies to build the world’s largest tidal power plant in eastern Indonesia.

Three Dutch non-profit groups - Both ENDS, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the Transnational Institute - said in an April report that the NCICD threatened the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people and had failed to follow design guidelines that would apply in the Netherlands, calling it a “pseudo-solution”.

A child stand as a worker drives heavy equipment near a new construction of a concrete sea wall at Cilincing area in Jakarta, Indonesia August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta
Hadiwinata from the Fisherfolk Union said local communities also object to a lack of consultation and impact assessments.

At least 25,000 fishermen have been hit by work already done for the project and other land reclamation initiatives along Jakarta Bay, which have caused sedimentation, he added.

They have to go further to find fish, whose numbers are now very low, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many, including Hadiwinata, are hoping Anies Baswedan, who won a hard-fought election for the post of Jakarta governor in April, will stop or modify the project when he takes office in October. Work was suspended for several months in 2016 amid regulatory and environmental concerns.

During his campaign, Baswedan was vocal about his opposition to the NCICD but has said nothing since. He was not available to comment for this article.

Coenen said stopping land subsidence is important but could take 15 to 20 years, meaning Jakarta should work on flood prevention at the same time. The future of the crowded city’s flood protection lies offshore because it has no space for flood basins, he added.

“It’s only a question of how far offshore you go, how big you want to build, and how long you want it to last, because the smaller the scheme, the shorter the lifetime will be,” he said.

The project’s first phase of strengthening the existing embankment along Jakarta’s shoreline, which began in 2014, is about a third complete, Coenen said.


Critics of the NCICD are hoping a three-year project to study and stop land subsidence, agreed in July between Indonesia and Japan’s international development agency JICA, could help.

It involves developing better monitoring systems to measure where subsidence is worst and groundwater extraction heaviest, raising awareness of the dangers, and undertaking mitigation measures such as regulating groundwater usage.

It may be one to two years before there is reliable, consolidated data on land subsidence, but the findings will feed into the NCICD, JICA said.

“Tokyo started regulating groundwater usage in the 1960s,” said Jun Hayakawa, JICA’s expert on water resource management. “By the early 1970s, the groundwater extraction and land subsidence stopped.”

If most of Jakarta’s groundwater usage can be prohibited, the city may soon see results, he said.

But this depends on how quickly the local and national governments can adopt regulations and provide alternative water sources, he added. That could be a major stumbling block.

Indonesian water expert Nila Ardhianie said around 65 percent of Jakarta’s residents are forced to use groundwater because the piped water system only covers about a third of the population. But she puts a larger share of the blame for land subsidence on commercial use by hotels, malls and businesses.

Nearly every large government building also draws on deep groundwater wells, even though many have piped water, because groundwater is free for public buildings in Jakarta, according to Dutch think tank Deltares.

Under the current system, operated by a city-owned water company and two private firms, universal access to piped water would be achieved only by 2022, too late to stop groundwater extraction in time to brake further land subsidence, the report from the Dutch non-profits said.

Tokyo also had to build sea walls but they were raised gradually, said JICA’s Hayakawa, suggesting Jakarta could do the same. “We need sea walls to protect the lives and assets of people in Jakarta,” he said.

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Cambodia: Koh Kong sand activists charged

Phak Seangly and Shaun Turton Phnom Penh Post 14 Sep 17;

Two Mother Nature activists arrested after filming suspected sand-bearing vessels have been charged with incitement and making unauthorised recordings of a person in “a private place” – an offence that drew scepticism yesterday, given they were in their own boat in the open ocean when capturing the footage.

The activists, Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak, were seized in their boat off the coast of Koh Kong province on Tuesday, about 10 kilometres from where they had been filming the ships, according to the driver of their speedboat. The pair were charged yesterday by the Koh Kong Provincial Court.

Court spokesman Un Sovan Theany described the charges as one count each of violation of privacy and incitement to commit a crime, though he declined to name the crime the pair had allegedly incited.

“The investigating judge decided to put them in prison to keep them to continue the investigation,” Theany added.

Incitement carries a maximum sentence of two years, while violation of privacy – described in the Criminal Code as “recording the image of a person who is in a private place without the . . . consent of the person” – carries a maximum sentence of one year and a fine up to $500.

Following his arrest, Vannak posted on Facebook that the vessels they were filming were about 4 kilometres from ruling Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat’s special economic zone in Kiri Sakor district’s Prek Ksach commune.

Mother Nature founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson yesterday said the activists were between 500 metres and 1 kilometre from the ships they were filming, which were suspected to be ready to transport silica sand.

Mother Nature on Monday published a video online exposing huge discrepancies in silica sand trade figures with Taiwan, highlighting more than $30 million in undocumented and potentially illegal exports, according to the group.
The revelations follow similar scandals with sand exports to Singapore and India.

Gonzalez-Davidson said the ships appeared not to be broadcasting an Automatic Identification System signal, meaning they did not show up on online ship tracking databases. “This [arrest] is likely in retaliation for the excellent work the two guys have been doing exposing the corruption and systematic fraud behind the extraction and export of sand,” Gonzalez-Davidson said, calling the charges “completely baseless”.

Vannak and Kundy have both been arrested before in connection to their activism.

Speaking on condition of anonymity yesterday, a provincial police officer said the violation of privacy charge had been brought by Yong Phat, though the policeman said he believed the charge was not relevant. “They did not affect the company’s land because they took the pictures from a boat.”

Yong Phat’s representative did not respond to a request for comment.

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Snow leopard no longer 'endangered'

BBC 14 Sep 17;

Has the chilling threat of extinction worn off at last for the long-endangered snow leopard?

Not exactly - but the iconic big cats' conservation status has been improved from "endangered" to "vulnerable".

The decision was announced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - the global standard for assessing extinction risk.

Experts have warned that the species still faces serious threats from poaching and habitat destruction.

The elegant yet elusive creatures, which live in the mountains of central Asia, were first listed as endangered by the IUCN in 1972.

The status change followed a three-year assessment process by five international experts.

Dr Tom McCarthy, who runs the Snow Leopard Programme at big cat charity Panthera, was one of them.

"To be considered 'endangered,' there must be fewer than 2,500 mature snow leopards and they must be experiencing a high rate of decline," he explained.

"Both are now considered extremely unlikely, which is the good news, but it does not mean that snow leopards are 'safe' or that now is a time to celebrate.

"The species still faces 'a high risk of extinction in the wild', and is likely still declining - just not at the rate previously thought."

Being classed as "vulnerable" means a species has under 10,000 breeding animals left, with a population decline of at least 10% over three generations.

The Snow Leopard Trust, which aims to protect the big cat through community projects, strongly opposes the status change. It plans to challenge the decision with the IUCN.

"We believe it could have serious consequences for the species," it wrote in a blog post.

Snow leopard researchers believe the species' decline may have been slowed by conservation projects - including some to protect farm animals from the predators, which are sometimes killed in revenge for livestock losses.

The number of protected areas within the snow leopards' habitat has also increased significantly in recent decades.

Snow leopard stats
* The rarely-sighted cats live in the craggy peaks of central Asia - including the Himalayas, and Russia's remote Altai mountains
* Their habitat covers more than 1.8 million sq km / 694,980 sq miles, across 12 countries
* Scientists say they are threatened by poaching for their fur, infrastructure developments, and climate change
* Usually found at elevations of 3,000-4,500m (11,480-14,760ft)
* Solitary creatures, they usually hunt at dawn and dusk and are able to kill prey up to three times their own weight
* Mostly feed on wild animals, but will also prey on livestock
* Their spotted coats change with the seasons - from a thick, white fur to keep them warm and camouflaged in winter, to a fine yellow-grey coat in summer
* Retaliatory killings by farmers are not uncommon, but are rarely reported

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