Best of our wild blogs: 19 Oct 17

October Facebook Jam
People's Movement to Stop Haze

An explosion of ideas and inspiration at the first IYOR 2018 Workshop
Singapore Celebrates our Reefs 2018

Plastic Oceans, Plastic Seafood
Mei Lin NEO

Green Is The New Black
People's Movement to Stop Haze

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Soil tests for MRT line in nature reserve mostly complete

Works done to determine if Cross Island Line can run under it
Audrey Tan Straits Times 19 Oct 17;

A major part of works to determine whether the Cross Island MRT Line can go under Singapore's largest nature reserve has been completed.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) told The Straits Times this week that soil tests for the 16 boreholes drilled within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve were finished last month.

The works, which will help engineers determine the soil and rock profile under Singapore's largest nature reserve, started in February and have been watched closely, especially by environmental groups who are urging the Government not to build the MRT line under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Other than the drilling of boreholes - each about 10cm wide to extract soil samples - the soil investigation works also included geophysical surveys.

These involve surveyors going off-trail into the forest to collect data using handheld equipment. Such surveys are needed to supplement data, as LTA had reduced the number of boreholes drilled in the nature reserve from 72 to 16, in a bid to reduce impact within the sensitive habitats. "Geophysical works and post-site investigation fauna monitoring activities are still ongoing," said the LTA spokesman.

The works are expected to be completed by the end of this year, the authority had said earlier.

Expected to be ready in 2030, the 50km Cross Island Line will stretch from Changi to Jurong.

The authorities are considering two paths for the line - a 4km route, half of which would be under the nature reserve, and a "skirting alignment" that would take a 9km route around it.

While the latter option is expected to tack on $2 billion to the cost of constructing the line, it could allow for an additional station to serve Thomson residents.

It would also satisfy nature groups which have raised concerns about the environmental impact of running an MRT line under the reserve, which is a treasure trove of biodiversity and home to critically endangered animals such as the Sunda pangolin.

The LTA spokesman said that findings from the site investigation works will be used in the next phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which will assess the impact of the construction and operations for both alignments.

The Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group said it appreciated the authorities' engagement with the nature groups, and hoped that it would continue.

"We would like to see the results of the monitoring activities made available for the public to view," said its spokesman Chloe Tan.

"Should the findings of the soil investigation works recommend that the Cross Island Line be aligned through the CCNR, we hope that Phase 2 of the EIA and monitoring activities will be conducted with the same (or even more) rigour to ensure that wildlife will not be affected by the construction works."

The first phase of the EIA, announced in February last year, had looked at the soil works and how to reduce their impact.

A key finding was that the works would have a "moderate" impact on plants and animals there, but only if measures to reduce impact are strictly implemented.

For the alternative route around the reserve, the impact of soil investigation works along Lornie Road was deemed to be "negligible", and "minor" for areas near Venus Drive and a golf course.

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Straw-free Tuesdays get youths started on plastic-lite journey

KELLY NG Today Online 18 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE — In a bid to get youngsters to use less plastic, an environmental activist has teamed up with four schools in northwestern Singapore to do without drinking straws once a week.

Ms Aarti Giri, 38, is expecting more schools to come on board next year. Five have already signalled their interest to join the initiative at the start of the new school year.

Since last month, the drinks stalls at Regent Secondary, Nan Chiau High, Pei Hwa Secondary and Nan Chiau Primary schools have gone straw-free on Tuesdays.

Ms Giri, who founded the non-profit group Plastic Lite Singapore last year, said she targeted straws because they made for a simple way to start cutting back on plastic. "Even without a straw, the taste of the drink itself doesn't change," she said. "Cutting straws is a habit that people can easily (adopt) ... Unlike, for instance, (doing without disposable) spoons."

The entrepreneur, who runs a business selling bags woven from a durable vegetable fibre called jute, started giving talks in schools to raise environmental awareness in February this year. She has reached out to about 16 primary and secondary schools so far, mostly with the help of North West Community Development Council.

The straw-free initiative was a way to "bridge what was taught with action", she said.

Although some may say the actual amount of plastic waste reduced through her effort is small, Ms Giri said it would plant a seed in the minds of the younger generation.

Elsewhere in the world, straw-free campaigns are a popular way to raise awareness of the growing problem of plastic waste, which blights beaches and oceans and causes harm to marine life such as sea turtles. According to a Guardian report in June, an estimated four to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year.

Teachers overseeing the effort in their schools agree the "small step" makes a difference. Regent Secondary's Ms Celia Loong, who teaches Chinese language, said the school plans to increase the number of no-straw days from next year.

Chemistry teacher Ms Leow Shie Hui, who oversees Nan Chiau High's Green Club, said: "There is a possibility of even phasing out straws ... This is a simple change in habit. Every individual has to make a small step."

The school's students are hoping to go completely straw-free next year.

Ms Giri wants to extend the movement by working with food and beverage outlets to serve straws only on request — another measure that has gained ground in countries like the United States. According to a global alliance called Plastic Pollution Coalition, about 1,800 restaurants, organisations and schools worldwide have eliminated plastic straws or implemented a straws-on-request policy.

Eateries that are "straw-lite zones" will provide opportunities to talk about reducing plastic use, she said. Anchorvale Community Club in Sengkang is planning to team up with eateries in Seletar Mall and coffeeshops in the area to eliminate straws.

Straws make up 3 to 12 per cent of litter collected at coastal cleanups here, according to data collected by the International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore.

"As with all single-use plastic products, straws are economically and environmentally unsustainable ... It is something that can easily be let go (of) and we can play a part in that," said Ms Giri.

She also hopes to introduce Bounce Bag, a reusable bag-sharing initiative at supermarkets. With the help of volunteers, she has collected over 600 reusable bags from residents and is currently in discussions with supermarkets and several grassroots organisations.

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Malaysia: Federal govt to spend RM17.5 million to restore Kelantan beaches ravaged by erosions

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 18 Oct 17;

KOTA BARU: The government will carry out recovery projects of two beaches in Kelantan which have been seriously affected by erosion over the decades.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the projects covering 3km of beaches were expected to cost RM17.5 million and would start early next year.

"Following the success of the Pantai Cahaya Bulan (PCB)'s project which cost about RM20 million, the government will use the same method for Pantai Mek Mas and Pantai Pulau Kundur here.

"With the same patterns of waves, weather and sea in PCB, the projects will likely be carried out smoothly at Pantai Mek Mas and Pantai Pulau Kundur," he told reporters after visiting the beaches here today.

Wan Junaidi said the PCB's project proved to be a success in two years time by using the “beach nourishment and rock revetment” systems.

"The new projects in Pantai Mek Mas and Pantai Pulau Kundur are expected to complete between 12 and 18 months.

"Once completed, the government hopes that the problems faced by the villagers there can be solved.

"It can also bring back tourists to the sites as well as the local traders can resume their business along the beaches," he said.

Wan Junaidi said the government started to trace erosion in the three main beaches in Kelantan in 2013 and the problem had persisted.

"The changes in weather as well as high tides and strong waves have contributed to this," he said.

Earlier, Wan Junaidi attended a briefing on beach erosion at a resort.

Also present at the one-hour meeting were Irrigation and Drainage Department (DID) deputy director-general (business sector) Datuk Dr Md Nasir Md Noh and state DID director Kamal Mustapha.

It is learnt that more than 400 villages at the beaches have been affected and houses in the areas are at risks of being destroyed by erosions.

Powerful winds wreaking havoc on Sabah's west coast
ruben sario The Star 18 Oct 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Winds packing speeds of up to 50km per hour uprooted trees and snapped off branches making driving hazardous amid driving rains along Sabah’s west coast, northern and interior districts.

Firemen were kept busy responding to 110 calls of trees and branches falling on houses, roads and vehicles since Oct 16.

Sabah Fire and Rescue Services Department operations room chief Khatizah Rahaban said there were however no casualties reported in those incidents.

She said there were 72 reports of trees or branches falling on roads while there were also 23 calls of houses being damaged in similar incident.

There were also another four reports of vehicles hit by the falling trees.

Fallen trees also damaged chalets on Manukan island near here while roofs of vegetable stalls popular among visitors in Kundasang were blown off by the strong winds.

Also blown off were sections of roofing at the Kian Kok secondary school here.

Strong winds, rough seas warning
Bernama New Straits Times 18 Oct 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: Strong winds and rough seas are expected to occur over waters off Sulu until Saturday, Oct 21.

According to a statement by the Malaysian Meteorological Department today, the southwesterly winds at 50-60 km per hour with waves of up to 4.5 meters would be dangerous to small boats.

Meanwhile, strong wind warnings and rough seas (first category) are also expected in the waters off Reef North, Layang-Layang and Palawan until Saturday, Oct. 21.

The southwesterly winds of 40-50 km per hour and waves of up to 3.5 meters high are expected to occur over the period.

The conditions were dangerous to small boats, sea recreation and sea sports.–BERNAMA

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Thailand: Trang fishermen deny dugong-hunting claims

Kanita Seetong The Nation 18 Oct 17;

Conservationists and fishermen in Trang province have denied claims that dugong hunters are active in their area. They have demanded that Thanya Netithammakun, who heads the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, either substantiate these claims with evidence or provide further explanation.

These claims, they said, tarnished their credibility despite their ongoing and serious efforts to protect wildlife and the environment in the area. Earlier, Thanya said dugongs were hunted and killed for their meat, tusks and bones. Dugong meat is sold as food at Bt150 per kilogram, and tusks and bones are used for amulet making, he said. Thanya also claimed that dugong meat was available on Libong island, upsetting the network of conservation groups and local fishermen in Trang.

These locals say that dugong hunting has not existed in their areas since 1993. “We have strongly opposed such hunting. During the past 20 years, we have never seen anyone hunting dugongs in our province’s seawaters,” a local conservationist said.

He said that local dugong population had been shrinking in recent years only because of illegal fishing tools. According to him, more than five dugongs sustained fatal wounds from fishing tools each year in Trang. If Thanya really had evidence to support his claims, the locals wanted him to take action against those involved in dugong hunting, he said.

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Warning of 'ecological Armageddon' after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth, scientists say
Damian Carrington The Guardian 19 Oct 17;

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.

Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, said Caspar Hallmann at Radboud University, also part of the research team: “All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.”

The amateur entomologists also collected detailed weather measurements and recorded changes to the landscape or plant species in the reserves, but this could not explain the loss of the insects. “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” said Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologists.

Goulson said a likely explanation could be that the flying insects perish when they leave the nature reserves. “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” he said. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

In September, a chief scientific adviser to the UK government warned that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and that the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored”.

The scientists said further work is urgently needed to corroborate the new findings in other regions and to explore the issue in more detail. While most insects do fly, it may be that those that don’t, leave nature reserves less often and are faring better. It is also possible that smaller and larger insects are affected differently, and the German samples have all been preserved and will be further analysed.

In the meantime, said De Kroon: “We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers.”

Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia, UK, and not involved in the new research said the work was convincing. “It provides important new evidence for an alarming decline that many entomologists have suspected is occurring for some time.”

“If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate – about 6% per year – it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. They pollinate flowers: flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops. They provide food for many animals – birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.”

Another way of sampling insects – car windscreens – has often been anecdotally used to suggest a major decline, with people remembering many more bugs squashed on their windscreens in the past.

“I think that is real,” said Goulson. “I drove right across France and back this summer – just when you’d expect your windscreen to be splattered all over – and I literally never had to stop to clean the windscreen.”

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