Best of our wild blogs: 2 Oct 17

15 Oct 2017 (Sun) - Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Loving Ubin mangroves in September
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Night dives at Pulau Hantu
The Hantu Bloggers

Kusu is alive!
Offshore Singapore

Oleander Hawk Moth (Daphnis nerii) @ Tanjong Pagar
Monday Morgue

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Sultan Shoal lighthouse: Run on technology, sustained by old-world charm

The 122-year-old western entry point to Singapore waters is both picturesque and eccentric at once.
Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 1 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE: Taking the hour-long boat journey to Sultan Shoal island resembles a rewinding of Singapore’s landscape. First, two of the city-state’s gleaming new palatial playthings - Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa Cove - shrink from view. Next come Pasir Panjang port’s gangly ”giraffe” container cranes, and Pulau Bukom’s hulking oil refinery tubs.

Then, neatly poised between the stark, reclaimed land patches of Jurong Island and Tuas, standing ground amongst an odd tanker or two, is the distinctive white, copper and beige structure which marks out Sultan Shoal.

Everything about the outcrop - 0.6 hectares, smaller than a football pitch - is curious. There is a man-made lagoon which fills with seawater at high tide - but swimming is not allowed.

At the other end, two holiday chalets have sat dormant since 2012, the property of PSA Corporation or what was once the state-run Port of Singapore Authority.

Sandwiched in between is the 122-year-old lighthouse, a white Victorian column perched atop a two-storey design brick-laid with clashes of colonial and local influences.

It is a transporting experience standing at this western point for vessels entering and departing Singapore’s waters, said lighthouse keeper Lee Kwang Liang.

“This is a very special island, beautiful by itself,” the 64-year-old added.

He is one of eight men employed by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to look after its five lighthouses.

Lee’s fellow keeper, 54-year-old N Manikaveloo, explained: “At any one time, four of us will be on an 11-day shift (at Pulau Pisang and Raffles lighthouses), while the others do unmanned lighthouse maintenance.”

Bedok lighthouse, Horsburgh lighthouse on Pedra Branca and Sultan Shoal are unmanned. The latter was only automated in 1984 at a cost of S$500,000, according to reports then.


When Sultan Shoal’s light first shone in 1896, it was a simple cluster of three single wick oil lamps. In later years, a kerosene burner was used, before diesel generators took over.

Even then, the lighthouse had to be manned by a crew of four, who manually operated the lantern at sunset and sunrise - and kept watch at night to ensure the light stayed on, according to Dr Parry Oei, MPA’s chief hydrographer and port services director.

“With the advent of technology and the growing difficulty in recruiting lightkeepers, we successfully automated Sultan Shoal lighthouse in 1984 using solar energy,” he recalled.

“We have now transited to using energy-efficient LED navigational lanterns, since 1992.”

The present-day lighthouse works by emitting two white flashes every 15 seconds, over a range of 15 nautical miles (almost 28km) and from 18m up.

A radar beacon also provides additional assistance to ships, but the increasing use of technology has done little to dim the significance of the lighthouse keeper’s job in their eyes.

“Yes, we come out to these unmanned lighthouses just once a month, and take up to about 1.5 hours to do the maintenance,” said Mr Lee, who has three years of experience under his belt. “But the keepers are still responsible for making sure the light is working and to help ships enter Singapore’s ports safely.”


Both Mr Lee and Mr Mani were effusive in comparing their lighthouse keeping to their previous deskbound professions.

“This is very unique work, very different from a job on the mainland,” said Lee. “For older people like me, this is very good for keeping ourselves occupied, active and fit at the same time.”

“It’s also a nice place for those who are semi-retired and want to and still can continue working,” he joked.

Said Mani, employed by MPA for eight years now: “In the city, it’s very hectic and stressful. When we come out to the lighthouses we get a sea breeze and a good view.”

Rust-tipped ships in the near distance notwithstanding, Sultan Shoal’s coconut tree-dotted shoreline and well-maintained greenery still make for an idyllic scene - albeit one off-limits to the public.

Nature, it seems, has found a way to preserve itself on the island. After 2,300 coral colonies were relocated to other islands to protect them from ongoing works at the Tuas port, the remaining 500 corals were observed in February to have a survival rate of about 90 per cent, according to Dr Oei.

And Sultan Shoal lighthouse too, in all its quaint, charming glory, “will not go”, said Lee.

“It’s a fixed structure, a benchmark, a key point. Should electronics fail, what do you rely on? That’s why we still maintain it after 100 over years.”

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Malaysia: Wildlife dept probing seven gutted carcasses near Pulau Mabul

ruben sario The Star 2 Oct 17;

KOTA KINABALU: More turtle carcasses have been discovered in Sabah’s east coast.

Facebook user Ridwan Abdul Razak shared photos of the seven dead turtles he found floating in the waters near Pulau Mabul at about 11.20pm on Saturday.

They were similar to those found near Pulau Bum Bum in Semporna earlier last week, with their flesh and plastron (lower shell) harvested.

“Hopefully the authorities will take action,” Ridwan wrote.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said an investigation team was immediately dispatched to the island when they were alerted about the carcasses yesterday morning.

“We are trying to ascertain whe­ther the turtles were killed there or whether the carcasses had drifted from another location,” he said.

Augustine said their investigations also focused on tracking down the buyers of the turtle meat and plastron, which are said to be ingredients for traditional medicine.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Envi­ronment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the state was looking at tightening existing wildlife laws so that those suspected of killing protected species would have to prove themselves innocent instead of the other way round.

He said it was not easy for prosecutors to find substantial evidence to prove that the suspect had killed an endangered animal.

Among the obstacles they faced was getting reliable witnesses, he added.

Masidi’s comments followed the recent killings of two bull pgymy elephants in Kalabakan and Kinaba­tangan, and at least nine endangered green turtles near Pulau Bum Bum.

About 100 turtle skeletons were also found on the island recently.

The killing of the green turtles had caught the attention of Sea Shepherd founder Capt Paul Watson, who offered a reward of US$5,000 (RM21,000) for information on the culprits.

Writing on his Facebook page, Capt Watson, who is also the CEO of the US-based non-profit marine wildlife conservation organisation, described those killing the turtles as monsters and said there was no justification for such savagery.

He urged those with information on the turtle poachers to contact the Sabah Wildlife Department.

More turtle carcasses found floating at sea, this time near Mabul island
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 1 Oct 17;

SEMPORNA: Another seven turtle carcasses, with their stomach exposed, were found floating in waters near the popular Mabul island, last night.

The 10pm discovery was made by a group of islanders, who pulled the carcasses to a secluded area away from a resort to avoid drawing attention.

All the carcasses were found tied together and believed to have drifted to the Mabul waters.

The shocking discovery was streamed on Facebook Live by a user Joe Strazz. The footage showed a group of men on a boat inspecting and pulling the carcasses, while expressing their dismay over the incident.

The turtle carcasses was found floating at sea near the Mabul island. Pic courtesy of NST reader.
Based on the conversation on the boat, the turtles were spotted stuck to the pillar of Billabong Scuba Homestay’s jetty. The group also counted the seven carcasses, noting there was another that slipped away.

“We are trying to bring these carcasses away from the island so they will not get stuck at the stilt houses and resorts (on Mabul). We are not sure what to do with these, but we are just pulling them towards the open sea.

“We are going to mark the area and will survey other sites to see if there are any more carcasses. The turtles are spotted by one of the tourists, who immediately informed us,” said the videographer to his audience.

At one point he mentioned the presence of police, noting they were not supposed to go to the sea as it was curfew hour and that they had not reported the findings to the authority.

Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the department was alerted of the incident this morning.

“We have sent a wildlife team to the island to retrieve the carcasses and conduct an investigation. I have also instructed all district wildlife offices to conduct massive operations against turtle poaching,” he said.

Early this week, the wildlife team had also responded to a viralled photo of eight mutilated turtle carcasses on Pulau Bum Bum off Semporna.

Upon arriving at the site on Thursday, the team only found one carcass while others were believed to have been washed away.

The team, however, made a shocking discovery when they spotted 100 bones from dead sea turtle carcasses scattered in the bushes near Kampung Pantau-Pantau, Kampung Amboh-Amboh and Kampung Sampolan on the island.

Tuuga had said initial investigations reveal the turtles may have been poached by the Bajau Laut or Pala’u community, sea gypsies who roam the seas, as they have been seen in the areas previously.

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Pakistan: Mangrove cover shows no significant increase ‘despite plantation efforts’

Faiza Ilyas Dawn 1 Oct 17;

KARACHI: Once rated the fifth largest mangrove forest in the world with a cover as high as 250,000 hectares a few decades ago, mangroves of the Indus delta now rank lower than 15th on the (global) list and have decreased to 98,014 hectares, indicating two to three per cent annual loss.

No significant success has been achieved to increase its size despite attempts for mass mangrove plantation in the delta.

These observations are part of a paper published in an international journal. Titled The Effect of Global Warming (Climate Change) on Mangroves of Indus Delta with Relevance to other Prevailing Anthropogenic Stresses, A critical review, the paper has been published in July this year in the European Academic Research journal.

It is authored by Dr Syed Mohammed Saifullah, a retired professor of Karachi University’s botany department.

The paper begins with the importance of mangroves and states that the total mangrove cover of the world has been estimated to be 137,760,000 hectares with an economic value of $200,000 to $900,000 per square kilometre and $1.6bn annually to ecosystem services.

“Besides, providing many goods and services to mankind, they also sustain about 80pc of global fisheries and serve as a sink of greenhouse gases. They fight back global warming through carbon sequestration at a higher rate than any other ecosystems on a unit area basis; it is estimated that as much as 25.5bn tons of carbon are sequestered by mangroves annually,” it says.

The mangroves in the Indus delta, it points out, are perhaps the most seriously stressed in the entire subtropical belt. Several anthropogenic stresses account for their drastic decline; the foremost among them is the sharp decline in the Indus river discharge into the delta.

“Some decades ago, 150MAF or more water used to reach the delta but now it is almost negligible except for occasional floods during monsoon. This is due to the construction of several dams and barrages along the Indus river to meet the increasing water demands for agricultural and industrial purposes. Consequently, the alluvial flow of the river, important for mangrove’s growth, has also decreased. These issues have become severe over time,” it says.

These conditions along with massive groundwater extraction, the author says, are contributing to the subsidence of the Indus delta, a phenomenon also affecting mangroves.

“It (the delta) is sinking continuously and has shrunk to about one tenth of its original size and cannot be restored to its original condition,” he says, citing other data.

Eight species of mangroves have been reported from Pakistan but now only four species occur in the delta with Avicennia marina the most dominant. The others are Rhizophora mucronata, Ceriops tagal and Aegiceras corniculatum.

The first two had almost disappeared from the delta but were reintroduced into the area by Sindh forest department and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Efforts for massive mangrove plantation, however, couldn’t produce significant results.

An estimated 0.54m saplings were planted in 2009 and more than 0.75m saplings in 2013 in the area of Keti Bandar. But, the results were not promising and didn’t show significant increase in the mangrove cover.

“A 2015 satellite study showed that the plantations resulted in only 1.6pc increase in the total mangrove cover. The reasons for this setback were mainly two; plantation was done in June in the midst of southwest monsoon characterised by high winds and high wave action, which may not have allowed proper rooting of seedlings.

“Secondly, only one species (Rhizophora mucronata) was planted, especially during 2009. The survival rate would have been better if A.marina had been planted along with it. Monocultures (the practice of growing a single species) are easily susceptible to environmental vicissitudes. Thirdly, the habitat and environmental conditions of the Indus delta do not favour the growth of Rhizophora mucronata,” it says.

On the effect of climatic changes, the author says, the phenomenon of sea level rise resulting from global warming might be contributing to subsidence of the delta. Citing various data, he argues that the inland retreat of mangroves along Karachi’s coastline in the face of sea level rise might not be possible owing to coastal installations. This won’t be the case, however, on the larger southern western part.

“The species’ composition of mangroves will probably remain the same, though their relative proportions of occurrence and zonation may change. Mangroves are resilient to climatic changes and in several areas (other countries) their growth has increased as a result of global warming. (Similarly) The increase in temperature, precipitation and carbon dioxide may increase mangrove growth in the Indus delta,” the author says.

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