Best of our wild blogs: 24 Sep 17

Bar-Tailed Godwit & Whimbrels @ Pulau Sekudu

Favourite Nectaring Plants #13
Butterflies of Singapore

Our first Facebook jam
People's Movement to Stop Haze

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Otter spotting with wildlife enthusiast at Nature Society event

Jose Hong Straits Times 24 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - Wildlife enthusiast Bernard Seah was at the Marina Bay area before the sun rose.

At 7.10am, hoping that his targets would not move too far, he got a Nature Society (Singapore) volunteer to tell a WhatsApp group to meet at Marina South Pier. "Otters now nearby that area," read the message.

Soon, almost 20 people, some on foot and others on bicycles and other personal mobility devices, arrived excitedly, looking out for the Bishan family of otters.

For the next couple of hours, they followed the 11 otters as they scampered and swam around Marina South Pier, up towards Marina Barrage and Gardens by the Bay.

Organised by the Nature Society (Singapore) for the first time, the Fun With Otters At Marina Bay-Kallang River event saw Mr Seah, 48, sharing his knowledge and passion for these animals.

"I've been a wildlife enthusiast for years, but it's when I got into digital photography in 2011 that my passion went up a couple of notches," said the professional emcee, who also volunteers with the National Parks Board and runs a Facebook photography page.

He spent the morning talking to the group, sharing facts like why the otters are called the Bishan family, and the distance one should keep when approaching them.

Holding a pair of binoculars, yoga instructor Marian Ang was closely watching the mammals with her nine-year-old daughter Trinity.

"I've seen otter families before, but it was only for a few seconds. This is the first time I'm able to follow a group," said Ms Ang, 39. "I'm very happy. It's so nice to be able to go so near, and learn from Bernard what to do."

A Nature Society spokesman said: "Otters have been in the news, yet we haven't gotten around to organising an event following them. So it's about time we did this."

She said: "They are an icon, so it's good that we get to know about these charismatic creatures."

Watching, learning about Bishan otters
Jose Hong Straits Times 25 Sep 17;

Wildlife enthusiast Bernard Seah was at the Marina Bay area yesterday before the sun rose. His mission? Lead an otter-watching event organised for the public.

At 7.10am, hoping that his targets would not move too far, he got a Nature Society (Singapore) volunteer to tell a WhatsApp group to meet at Marina South Pier.

Soon, almost 20 people, some on foot and others on bicycles and other personal mobility devices, arrived excitedly, looking out for a family of otters that used to live in Bishan.

For the next couple of hours, they followed the 11 otters as they scampered and swam around Marina South Pier, up towards the Marina Barrage and Gardens by the Bay.

Organised by the Nature Society (Singapore) for the first time, the Fun With Otters At Marina Bay-Kallang River event saw Mr Seah, 48, sharing his knowledge and passion for these animals.

"I have been a wildlife enthusiast for years, but it was when I got into digital photography in 2011 that my passion went up a couple of notches," said the professional emcee, who also volunteers with the National Parks Board and runs a Facebook photography page.

He spent the morning talking to the group, sharing facts like why the otters are called the "Bishan family", and the distance one should keep when approaching them.

The Bishan family otters first established themselves in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, and moved to the Marina Bay area in late 2015 after "kicking out" the otters originally living there.

One of the participants at yesterday's event was yoga instructor Marian Ang, who was with her nine-year-old daughter Trinity and closely watching the mammals using a pair of binoculars.

"I have seen otter families before, but it was only for a few seconds. This is the first time I am able to follow a group," said Ms Ang, 39. "It's so nice to be able to get so near to them, and learn from Bernard what to do."

Said a Nature Society spokesman: "Otters have been in the news, yet we haven't got around to organising an event following them. So it's about time we did this."

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Ground-up efforts to slash waste gather pace in Singapore

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 23 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE — In October 2015, National University of Singapore (NUS) students Elaine Sam and Gracie Low noticed the abundance of food wasted on campus and decided to do something about the problem.

They started the NUS Buffet Response Team Facebook group to alert people on campus to excess food at various events. The group, which switched platforms in February to instant messaging app Telegram after changes to Facebook-feed algorithms, now has more than 5,300 members who have been alerted to at least 110 buffets, said Ms Sam, 25, a recent environmental studies graduate. The initiative also helps underprivileged students who may otherwise skip meals, she added.

If the membership of informal groups aimed at reducing consumer waste and recent ground-up campaigns are any indication, the movement to cut waste is gathering momentum.

This month, a BYO (Bring Your Own) campaign by non-governmental organisation Zero Waste SG kicked off to get consumers to use their own reusable bags and food containers when shopping or doing take-aways. Consumers who make the effort receive discounts and free food items from participating businesses.

In May last year, Facebook group Journey to Zero Waste Life in Singapore was set up and drew about 800 members in nearly five months. The figure has since ballooned to over 4,850 and members include students, young parents and working adults, said founder Gan Kah Hwee, 30, an educator.

Members share articles and tips on reducing waste, such as requesting a metal fork instead of disposable chopsticks at eateries. The group’s growth has been entirely organic, with no ads or promotional efforts, said Mr Ryan Phung, 34, one of the group’s administrators.

Harder to measure, however, is the difference that such efforts are making to the growing waste problem. According to official statistics, solid waste generated in Singapore has been growing since 2003, save for a dip between 2013 and 2014. Last year, Singapore generated 7.81 million tonnes of waste, a 1.8 per cent increase from 2015, figures from the National Environment Agency (NEA) showed. A bright spot, however, was the slight decrease in domestic waste generated, from 2.13 million tonnes in 2015 to 2.09 million tonnes in 2016.

While founders of the ground-up efforts acknowledge the usefulness of measuring their impact, no one has found a meaningful way to do so. Limited resources and the more urgent issue of redirecting waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill were among the reasons cited.

The benefits of tracking one’s impact should be balanced against the time and resources required, said sustainability consultant Kia Jiehui of Forum for the Future, a non-profit.

Ms Kia, 29, is also co-founder of an initiative that refills and re-distributes used and unwanted pens to the underprivileged in Singapore and the region. She recently bagged an NEA EcoFriend award, which recognises the efforts of people in Singapore who have made contributions to the environment.

Her Save That Pen initiative has collected more than 85,000 pens, although the group discovered along the way that nearly 60 per cent of them cannot be refilled and reused. About 10,000 of the pens collected have been re-distributed.

Ms Kia believes groups should think seriously about measuring their impact using the most “meaningful” metrics, which could then present a “fascinating” picture when compared with data collected by corporate entities on their sustainability drives.

What is clear, for now, is the personal satisfaction derived from adopting more environmentally conscious habits.

For instance, by sending food scraps for composting and processing inedible vegetable scraps into a natural household cleaning agent, homemaker Sandra Zhang, 44, has reduced the volume of her daily kitchen trash from a bagful to just a “handful”.

“Knowing that I’m not wasting and exhausting the natural resources otherwise meant for the future generations...makes me feel good about cutting waste,” she said.

Mr Phung, a business owner, joined the “no-poo” bandwagon last year and stopped using shampoo. He washes his hair carefully using only water and said: “So far, I have no problem… (my hair) looks great and healthy and people can’t tell (I don’t use shampoo).”

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Supermarkets in talks to charge for plastic bags

Levy may kick in by middle of next year if industry-wide deal is struck
Audrey Tan and Samantha Boh Straits Times 24 Sep 17;

Supermarket customers here could soon have to pay for plastic bags, following in the footsteps of other cities that impose such a charge.

The Sunday Times has learnt that Singapore's four main supermarket chains - FairPrice, Dairy Farm Group, Prime Supermarket and Sheng Siong - are in discussions to see if they can agree on implementing a plastic bag surcharge.

If an industrywide agreement is reached, shoppers can expect to start paying for plastic bags by the middle of next year. The price of each plastic bag could be between five cents and 10 cents.

The discussions came about after environmental group Zero Waste Singapore in June last year called on the Government and local businesses to introduce a levy on the use of plastic bags, primarily as a disincentive to shoppers to use them.

Some 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste were generated last year, but only 7 per cent was recycled.

Singapore used about three billion plastic bags in 2011, according to a 2013 study by the Singapore Environment Council. "It is likely that the number has risen as the population of Singapore has increased," noted its spokesman last week.

Plastic bags can be placed in recycling bins if they are not contaminated with food waste. But non-recycled plastic bags, whether or not biodegradable, are all incinerated.

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

Excessive use of plastic bags could also clog up Singapore's only landfill, on Pulau Semakau. Ash residue from incineration is sent to the landfill, which is filling up at a rapid rate and may become full as early as 2035, a decade earlier than projected.

If the move to impose a plastic bag levy is adopted by the supermarket chains, it could have an appreciable impact as they have a huge piece of the shopper pie.

Places such as Penang and California have plastic bag surcharges.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency said it supports ground-up efforts to encourage consumers to use reusable containers and bags, and has been engaging supermarket operators on this issue.

The supermarkets would not be drawn to comment specifically about the voluntary agreement. But Prime, Sheng Siong and Dairy Farm Group emphasised the need for all retailers to adopt a plastic bag charge for there to be an impact.

FairPrice director for corporate communications and brand Jonas Kor noted that a surcharge could pose hardship for lower-income groups. "We, however, continue to assess the feasibility of plastic bag reduction measures and remain open to any new initiatives and potential partnerships, such as the BYO (Bring Your Own) Singapore campaign, to encourage this positive industry trend," he said.

Consumers said they would prefer not to be charged for plastic bags, though a levy would spur them to look for alternatives. Dental assistant Lai Xian Ying, 32, does not mind paying a small fee. "We need to do our part to save the Earth,"she said.

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Singapore vulnerable to 'super malaria' parasite but rapid spread here unlikely

Samantha Boh Straits Times 24 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - A "super malaria" parasite is spreading through South-east Asia at an alarming rate and Singapore is unlikely to keep it off its shores.

But there is also a very low chance of a rapid spread here, said Assistant Professor Rajesh Chandramohanadas from the Singapore University of Technology & Design.

That is because Singapore, declared malaria-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1982, has only a small population of Anopheles mosquitoes - the carriers of malaria.

"Hence a rapid spread here would be not a major concern," said Prof Rajesh, who studies the biology of malaria parasites.

He however noted that Singapore stands particularly vulnerable and receptive to foreign infections owing to the large migratory foreign workforce and the influx of travellers from neighbouring countries.

"With 6 per cent of total malaria related deaths reported from the neighbouring WHO South-East Asia region, Singapore lies equally vulnerable to these newer strains of malaria as any other pandemic country," he said.

This dangerous form of the parasite that is transmitted by mosquitoes cannot be killed with the main drugs currently used to treat the infectious disease, reported the BBC.

The strain was originally detected in Cambodia in 2007, and experts are calling for action before it reaches other areas such as India or Africa, reported AFP.

"It spread like a wildfire to Vietnam," said Professor Arjen Dondorp, head of the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit at Mahidol University in Bangkok.

The co-author of an article published on Thursday (Sept 22) in the medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases added: "It started 10 years ago in western Cambodia. It is very fit and spreads very easily. This resistance is taking over. Cambodia already changed to a new drug, likely to last one or two years. Vietnam has to change now."

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Malaysia: Deforestation in Kg Dew destroys firefly habitat

The Star 23 Sep 17;

A mangrove forest famous for fireflies in Kampung Dew, near Taiping has been devastated by the felling of thousands of trees.

Environmental organisation Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) said in a statement that it had visited the area recently and found trees like the Nipah palms (Nypa Fruticans) and Berembang (Sonneratia Caseolaris), which are habitat for fireflies, had been cut down.

SAM president S.M. Mohamed Idris said the felling of the trees and destruction of forest in the Sepetang River reserve had a negative impact on the river’s ecosystem, especially the fireflies and aquatic life.

“These activities can also cause erosion on the river bank as the trees are natural fortifier.

“We received complaints that the encroachment and destructive activities at the Sepetang River reserve still occurred despite the fact that the Kerian District Land Office had conducted surveillance and issued a warning,” he added.

Mohamed Idris also claimed that a proposal to establish a Permanent Forest Reserve at the area, to be known as Hutan Simpan Kelip-Kelip (HS Kelip-Kelip) covering 152.98ha was agreed in principle by the state on Nov 6, 2013.

“It has yet to be gazetted.

“The question is what are the barriers and constraints hindering the proposed forest reserve from being gazetted,” he said.

“We hope the state will expedite gazetting the mangrove forest along the Sepetang River as a Permanent Forest Reserve so that the natural habitat along this river is protected and well managed,” he added.

Perak Land and Mines Department director Rumaizi Baharin said about 2ha of land in Kampung Dew, Kuala Sepetang, was affected.

He said they had identified one company responsible for clearing the state-owned area.

“We are still investigating the matter. We believe the activities began during the long holiday stretch in conjunction with Hari Raya Aidiladha and National Day.

“After completing the investigation, we will submit the papers to the Deputy Public Prosecutor’s office to decide what actions to be taken.

“It’s either we compound them or take legal action,” he added.

It is learnt that the company had cleared the land to build an irrigation system to allow water to be properly released from its farms.

The company is also believed to have planned to build bunds to prevent flood in the surrounding area during high tides.

On the gazetting of the area as a Permanent Forest Reserve, Rumaizi said it was still being processed.

“It’s already in the final stages. Once the area has been surveyed and the necessary documents issued, we can gazette it,” he said.

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Malaysia: Haze returns to Sarawak?

Goh Pei Pei New Straits Times 23 Sep 17;

KUCHING: Is the transboundary haze making a comeback in Sarawak?

This appeared to be the case when several areas in the city have been shrouded with air smeared by dust particles since Thursday.

The Department of Environment said four districts in the state recorded a moderate air pollution index (API) readings as of 2pm today.

The Mukah district recorded an API reading of 58 followed by Sri Aman, which registered an air quality reading of 54.

Both Sibu and Sarikei recorded an API readings of 52 within the same period.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department director Nor Hisham Mohammad when contacted said there was no forest fire reported in the state thus far.

Checks with the Singapore-based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) showed there were 98 hotspots recorded in Kalimantan and Sarawak as of yesterday.

One of the hotspots was located in Sibu while the remaining hotspots were in Kalimantan.

“Scattered to widespread hotspots with smoke haze were observed in West Kalimantan.

“In the next few days, prevailing winds in the northern Asean region will blow from the south or southwest.

“Winds in the southern Asean region will blow from the southeast or southwest,” said the centre in a statement released at about 5pm on Friday.

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Malaysia, Johor: Deadly rat urine disease threat on the rise

zazali musa The Star 23 Sep 17;

JOHOR BARU: Johor has recorded a spike in leptospirosis (rat urine disease) cases with 228 as of this month compared with 205 in 2016, said state health, environment, information and education committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat.

Johor Baru has the highest number of leptospirosis cases this year with 55 reported, followed by Segamat with 37 cases and 30 in Kluang.

There were 13 deaths this year compared to nine recorded last year, said Ayub.

He said there were 68 cases of leptospirosis in Johor in 2012, with 63 in 2013, 388 in 2014, 306 in 2015 and 205 in 2016.

Ayub said apart from floods, leptospirosis could also spread due to unhygienic surroundings of recreational forests or parks such as waterfalls, ponds and lakes.

The lackadaisical attitude of visitors who dirtied recreational forests or parks made the places perfect breeding grounds for rodents, he said.

Ayub said although there were notice boards requesting visitors to keep the places clean, they continued to litter.

“Residents in housing estates as well as hawkers and visitors to our recreational parks should not dump their rubbish and food waste into monsoon drains and waterways,” said Ayub.

“Do not blame the authorities if you are exposed to the dangerous disease,” he added.

The symptoms of leptospirosis include stomach ache, flu and fever. If left untreated, it could eventually lead to organ failure and death.

He said apart from leptospirosis, the State Health Department also monitored post-flood diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dengue and melioidosis.

Melioidosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called bukholderia pseudomallei which is found in contaminated water and spread to humans and animals through direct contact with the contaminated source.

Public hospitals in Johor are ready and well-prepared in case the number of flood victims increase drastically, added Ayub.

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Vietnam: How environmental pollution is ruining the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is a land carpeted in endless shades of greens, a magical water world that is being destroyed by climate change and environmental pollution, says the Vietnam Environment Administration.
Vietnam Net 23 Sep 17;

Some 20 million people call the Mekong Delta home, and 60 million are dependent on the natural environment of river system for their livelihoods, says the Environment Administration.

The Mekong Delta, as local folklore suggests, is a lifelong partner of the Vietnamese that provides the people wisdom and guidance.

However, the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in farming and the discharge of solid waste from craft villages and households combined with the effect of climate change is destroying the Delta.

Le Anh Tuan, a researcher with The Climate Change Research Institute at Can Tho University, agrees with the Environment Administration. Mr Tuan says the Delta will be completely gone within the next one to two hundred years.

The river system that has sustained life for so many thousands of years is now dying because of the negative effects of climate change and pollution.

Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, and is triggering erratic weather patterns, to which the area is particularly vulnerable due to how flat it is, says Mr Tuan, who is the vice director of the Research Institute for Climate Change.

The Mekong Delta is an agricultural miracle area that accounts for just 10% of the country's land mass but produces more than one third of its food crops and 60% of its farm raised fish and shrimp.

Changes to the Delta, therefore, will have a catastrophic impact for the people of Vietnam, Mr Tuan cautions.

Erosion can kill at anytime

Residents of the Mekong Delta have good reason for concern. River banks are eroding and earlier this year, in the district of Dam Doi of Ca Mau Province, more than 30 houses were swallowed by the river.

In April, another disaster in district of Nam Can in Ca Mau Province killed a family of four while they were sleeping. Everywhere, towns and homes are being consumed as riverbanks keep eroding.

Many residents have given up their long-time habit of living close to the sea and rivers, says one long-time resident, Tam Sau. Because life’s lessons have taught them that erosion can kill at any time in the Mekong Delta.

Experts say the erosion is the result of groundwater extraction, which is happening at an ever-faster rate to support growing urbanization. At the same time, rising sea levels are flooding and taking over low lying coastal areas, which are losing hundreds of hectares of land annually.

Towns and homes are being engulfed by rivers

As seawater penetrates up to 90 kilometres inland, vast swathes of farm land in the Delta once widely reputed as the rice bowl of Vietnam are dying along with the hardier fruit trees and coconut palms, Tam Sau explains.

Pressure from manufacturing and industrial parks

The rural environment of the Mekong Delta is under pressure from manufacturing at industrial parks, says the Vietnam Environment Administration and impacts from climate change, such as rising sea levels, and natural disasters.

Environmental pollution risks also come from cultivation, animal husbandry, aquatic and farm produce processing, craft villages, and industrial production.

Poor planning and management, says the Environment Administration, along with the ineffective operation of waste treatment facilities have made protecting the Mekong Delta even more difficult.

Raising public awareness of the devastation that environmental protection is wreaking on the country is of paramount importance says the Environment Administration. It’s the first step to changing the habits of people and saving the Mekong Delta.

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