Best of our wild blogs: 6 Dec 17

Changi seagrass meadows are alive!
wild shores of singapore

Registration now open: 10 Dec (Sun) Explore Ubin mangroves by kayak
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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Singapore stands ready to contribute to a pollution-free world

MASAGOS ZULKIFLI Today Online 6 Dec 17;

As Singapore marks the 40th anniversary of the cleaning up of the Singapore River, its radical transformation from an open sewer to a clean recreation spot and source of drinking water shows how countries can move towards a pollution-free world with vision and determination.

This was a point made by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, as he delivered Singapore’s National Statement at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi on Tuesday (Dec 5).

Below is Mr Masagos’ statement, which underlined Singapore’s approach to sustainable development and the importance of intergovernmental cooperation in tackling transboundary pollution.

As a densely populated city state, Singapore, from its early days, has had to grapple with the challenges of balancing economic development with preserving a clean, green and liveable environment.

Pragmatic policymaking based on sound economic principles and science, a focus on long-term planning, and the ability to mobilise popular support have been crucial in Singapore’s sustainability journey.

Such an approach is no less relevant today as we tackle pressing environmental challenges such as climate change and pollution.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the cleaning up of the Singapore River, a herculean endeavour that aptly reflects our approach to sustainable development.

In the 1970s, the Singapore River was terribly polluted and was literally an open sewer.

As part of a long-term plan to meet burgeoning water needs, we worked hard over a decade to clean up the catchment area of the Singapore River, resettling thousands of farms, factories and street hawkers. The support and involvement of the people of Singapore were crucial.

Today, the Singapore River has been radically transformed. It is clean and beautiful – a place for recreation, and a source of drinking water.

Sound policy-making, long-term thinking and the mobilisation of broad support are just as relevant today.

For example, to tackle air pollution, Singapore has steadily enhanced our air quality standards for industry and transport over the years, taking into account economic and health studies on the impact of air pollution.

On this evidence, we have crafted policies to justify incentives to encourage the early replacement of older and more pollutive diesel commercial vehicles with new models that meet Euro 6 standards. We have also imposed a volumetric diesel tax.

Over the long-term, these policies bring benefits in improved air quality.

This in turn gives better health for our citizens and sustains a liveable environment for our people. They also discourage the use of fossil fuels and help fight climate change.

National efforts to address pollution are critical, but they are insufficient. Pollution is also a regional and international issue that requires multi-lateral action.

As countries work together to address environmental problems, we similarly need to apply the principles of sound policy-making, long-term thinking and mobilising broad support.


Let’s take air pollution. Under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, Asean members have been working together to prevent, monitor and mitigate haze.

All Asean members have ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

The successful implementation of this agreement will go a long way towards achieving a haze-free Asean by 2020.

This has also sent a strong signal to agro-companies to adopt sustainable practices. The regional and world communities do not condone forest burning to clear them for agriculture.

Second, ensuring clean seas and oceans is another area where national policy intersects with international efforts.

Singapore has a direct interest in keeping our waterways clean, because we collect and treat every drop of water, both used water and stormwater, for potable use.

To address sea-based marine pollution, we have rolled out initiatives on clean and green shipping, some of which go beyond the standards set by the International Maritime Organisation.

Third, we ensure that our solid waste is well managed within our shores and not dumped into the sea.

We have done this well; but we do not stand still because we strive to become a Zero Waste Nation.

Technology will play a big role and we will invest in R&D to achieve this. We will also involve our citizens and industries to play their part to reduce waste in the first place and separate waste properly to maximise resource recovery. Ultimately, very little should go to the landfill, and nothing to pollute the sea.

Climate change is closely interlinked with pollution. Our policies should also aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve them together. As nations come together to address climate change, part of this lies in how we also address pollution.

Our policies should also aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we try to tackle pollution from gas emitters.

In Singapore, for instance, we not only adopt policies to promote cleaner and greener transport, but have also announced a freeze on private transport growth while growing public transport options.

Such policies will preserve the environment and fight climate change at the same time.

Singapore will also be introducing a carbon tax in 2019 to send an economy-wide price signal to encourage emissions reductions and the adoption of low-carbon technologies.

It will complement our wide-ranging climate mitigation measures to achieve our pledge under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We know that as companies adopt energy-efficient alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint to avoid this tax, they will inevitably also reduce emission of other pollutive substances.

Ultimately, change comes from each citizen being aware and inspired to care for the environment.

That is why Singapore is designating 2018 as the Year of Climate Action, when we rally the whole nation to come together to do our part for the environment and our climate.

Beyond strengthening co-operation between countries, international bodies like UN Environment also play an important role in mobilising support from all stakeholders, including the citizens of each country.

Government efforts alone are not enough. We need the support of citizens and businesses for sound environmental policies that bring long-term benefits but require near-term adjustments on their part.

Hence, I am glad to see many more ground-up initiatives in Singapore to promote sustainability and fight climate change.

Civil society groups such as Singapore Youth for Climate Action, #LepakinSG, PM Haze, Plastic Lite, Zero-Waste SG, WWF-Singapore, Forum for the Future, and Save that Pen are encouraging Singaporeans to shop sustainably.

Plastic-Lite Singapore has initiatives to reduce the use of single-use plastics. Such ground-up efforts are bearing fruit as companies respond to consumer demand, for example, by getting their products certified for sustainability.

Businesses in Singapore are also joining the fight against climate change and pollution. For example, the Singtel Group, a major Singaporean telecommunications company, has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions across its Singapore and Australian operations.

Siloso Beach Resort has pledged to procure sustainable palm oil and use environmentally-friendly toiletries. Other companies that have pledged effort to reduce pollution, including carbon emissions, are City Development Limited, and Swire Pacific Offshore.

The efforts by our civil society groups and companies are highlighted in the voluntary commitments that they have submitted.

Let me end by returning to the story of the Singapore River. The restoration of the Singapore River is testament that with vision, determination and unity, we can take concrete steps towards a pollution-free planet. Singapore stands ready to contribute.

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Indonesia: Diseases spread as Pekanbaru flood worsens

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 5 Dec 17;

Flooding from the overflowing of Siak River in Pekanbary, Riau, has reportedly worsened and triggered the spread of various diseases in the area.

Five days into the disaster, floodwaters have reached Palas and Meranti subdistricts, Rumbai district, and Bambu Kuning subdistrict in Tenayan Raya district.

According the Pekanbaru Social Affairs Agency, 3,567 households or 10,887 people have been affected by the flood.

“Those subdistricts are densely populated areas. Most of the inundated houses are located at the Siak riverbank and its tributaries,” Pekanbaru Social Affairs Agency head Chairani said on Tuesday.

Pekanbaru Health Agency head Helda S. Munir said several contagious diseases, such as diarrhea, influenza and pruritus had started to spread among the flood victims.

“Victims of natural disasters are always vulnerable to those diseases," she said.

Helda added that the agency's flood response focused on school-aged children who will be facing their end-of-semester exams.

“Children are the most vulnerable to contagious diseases," she said. "We need to keep them healthy so they can sit their exams."

The Pekanbaru Health Agency has readied dozens of medical personnel at special posts, Puseksmas (community health centers) and district offices affected by the floods.

"So far, no one has had to be hospitalized because of a contagious disease," Helda said.

“We have told residents who feel unwell or itchy to go to the nearest health center for a free check-up.” (kmt/ebf)

Two children die as floods strike Medan
Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 5 Dec 17;

Heavy downpours in North Sumatra in the past few days have caused landslides and flooding that have claimed at least two lives.

Two children died in floods in Medan Maimon district, Medan city, on Sunday, local authorities said. The victims M. Noval, 4, and M. Ikhsan, 7, were reportedly washed away when floods hit their homes in the city.

The floodwater also inundated roads in Medan and caused traffic congestion, including in front of North Sumatra Police headquarters on Jl. Sisingamangaraja.

Landslides were also reported in Adiantkoting village, North Tapanuli regency, on Monday following days of heavy rain. The landslides blocked the road connecting Tarutung to Sibolga regency.

One resident, Udin, said he had to stay overnight in his car as he could not pass the road because of the landslides.

“I waited for more than nine hours stuck in Adiantkoting village,” said the Sibolga resident, who wished to travel to Medan.

The head of Medan Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Edison Kurniawan said the rain was expected to last for several more days.

“There is still the potential for heavy rains in the next few days so people need to be alert for floods, landslides and heavy seas around North Sumatra,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday. (vla/rin)

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Indonesia: North Jakarta, Thousand Islands inundated with tidal floods

The Jakarta Post 5 Dec 17;

Thousand Islands and North Jakarta were inundated by rising sea levels on Tuesday.

Cleaning workers under the authority of the Public Facility Maintenance Agency (PPSU) in Penjaringan, North Jakarta tried to hold off the seawater using sandbags as residential areas became inundated.

Penjaringan sub-district head Depika Romadi said sea levels had increased due to the rainy season while the construction of the sea-dike was yet to be completed.

“The sea-dike is still under construction, leaving a gap of 50 meters, so seawater can inundate the area,” Romadi said, as quoted by Reportedly, the flood waters reached 90 centimeters but recede to 10 centimeters.

OK OCE Mart in Muara Angke, Penjaringan was also inundated. The mart coordinator Sugiyanto said the mart had not been impacted by seawater flooding since it was officially opened in June.

“We tried to use sandbags to keep the water out [of the mart],” Sugiyanto said.

Besides OK OCE mart, water also inundated the parking lot of Muara Angke low-cost apartment, the local firefighters station and the police office.

In Thousand Islands regency, at least three islands were inundated following a tidal surge on Tuesday morning. Untung Jawa, Tidung and Lancang islands were inundated by some 20 to 50 centimeters of water.

“It is rare that [the islands] become inundated,” said Tidung Island resident, Anwar. (wnd)

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Indonesia: Five more orangutans released into Kehje Sewen forest

N.Adri The Jakarta Post 5 Dec 17;

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) on Monday released five more orangutans into Kehje Sewen forest in East Kutai regency, East Kalimantan, adding the number of orangutans brought into the forest to 80 individual animals. This is the 14th release of the protected species since the group started the initiative in 2012.

“The release of the five orangutans is also part of a celebration of the first World Wildlife Conservation Day,” said BOSF executive director Jamartin Sihite on Monday.

He said Monday’s release would be the last release for 2017.

It was not by coincidence that one of the orangutans released by BOSF included a six-year old male orangutan named Santa. He was rescued from captivity in Muara Wahau, around two hours drive from Kehje Sewen, in 2014. At that time, Santa still showed signs of the wild behavior needed for his release.

When rescued, Sihite said Santa was too young to be released so he was put into a forest school in Samboja Lestari. The rehabilitation and reintroduction center managed by BOSF is located in Samboja district, 50 kilometers north of Balikpapan.

“He is a six years old now and ready to be released into the wild. We are very happy that we could release the orangutans, including Santa, into their natural habitat before Christmas,” said Sihite.

East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) head Sunandar Trigunajasa said he was grateful and thanked all parties that had been involved in the conservation of orangutans and their habitat.

“After a long rehabilitation process by BOSF, the orangutans could be finally released into the forest,” said Sunandar. (vla/ebf)

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Red list: thousands of species at risk of extinction due to human activity

Unsustainable farming, fishing and climate change has intensified the struggle for survival among vulnerable animals and crops, says IUCN at the release of its latest list of endangered species
Justin McCurry The Guardian 5 Dec 17;

Thousands of animal species are at critical risk of going extinct due to unsustainable farming and fishing methods and climate change, a conservation group has warned as it released the latest red list of endangered species.

In a rare piece of good news, the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] praised New Zealand for its success in turning around the fortunes of two species of kiwi, prompting it to upgrade them from endangered to vulnerable.

The struggle for survival among at-risk animals – and now crops – has intensified as a result of rising human populations, economic development and drastic changes in the natural environment caused by global warming, the IUCN said.

Craig Hilton-Taylor, who heads the group’s red list unit, said species were going extinct at a faster rate than at any time in human history.

But he drew encouragement from New Zealand’s example. “It’s all a rather sad picture, but the red list also gives us hope and shows us that conservation can work,” he told reporters at the list’s publication in Tokyo.

The IUCN aims to cover 160,000 species by the end of the decade, he added.

The group, which received funding for this year’s list from the Japanese automaker Toyota, assessed the status of 91,523 species, of which 25,821 are threatened, 866 are extinct and 69 extinct in the wild. It said 11,783 species are vulnerable, 8,455 are endangered and 5,583 critically endangered.

Among the most prominent species now regarded as endangered are the Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise found in parts of southeast Asia.

The group blamed their plight on human activity, including the use of fishing nets. “Gillnets hang like curtains of death across rivers and trap everything that comes into contact with them,” said Hilton-Taylor.

In addition, Australia’s western ringtail possum slipped from vulnerable to critically endangered after its population plunged by 80% over the past decade.

Once widespread in the peppermint and eucalyptus forests of Western Australia, the animal can now be found only in a few fragmented habitats and is prone to heat stress at temperatures above 35C (95F) – an increasingly common phenomenon in that part of the country.

The IUCN said three reptile species on Christmas Island, an Australian territory just south of Indonesia, had gone extinct in the wild: the whiptail-skink, the blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko.

“We’re not 100% sure of the cause but it is almost certainly linked to the presence of invasive species” such as the yellow crazy ant, Hilton-Taylor said.

The Okarito kiwi and the northern brown kiwi, however, have mounted a modest recovery thanks to conservation work and a campaign to control predators such as rats, stoats and possums.

More than 40 species of New Zealand birds have already died out and many others remain threatened, including the kiwi.

The example of the Okarito and northern brown kiwi showed “conservation can and does work,” Hilton-Taylor said, adding that the population of the former has risen from 160 in 1995 to about 400-450 now.

“Government agencies and community groups in New Zealand came together and really turned things around,” he said.

Three species of wild rice, along with two of wild wheat and 17 types of wild yam were listed as threatened due to deforestation and urban expansion, coupled with the pressures created by intensive agriculture.

“The importance of food security unites the entire Asian continent,” said Naohisa Okuda, director of the biodiversity policy division at Japan’s environment ministry.

“We should be very concerned about the survival of these crops, because their loss could jeopardise the bowls of rice we eat in the future.”

IUCN Red List: Wild crops listed as threatened
Helen Briggs BBC News 5 Dec 17;

Wild relatives of modern crops deemed crucial for food security are being pushed to the brink of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

More than 20 rice, wheat and yam plants have been listed as threatened on the latest version of the IUCN's Red list.

The wild plants are being squeezed out by intensive farming, deforestation and urban sprawl, say scientists.
Modern crops can be crossbred with their wild cousins to safeguard foods.

''To lose them would be a disaster,'' said Dr Nigel Maxted of the University of Birmingham, who is co-chair of the IUCN's specialist group on crop wild relatives.

''It would be much more difficult to maintain food security without them.''

Insurance policy

Commercial crops have lost genetic diversity. They are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which may bring drought, diseases and new pests.

Work is under way to breed new varieties of grains, cereals and vegetables by crossing them with tough, wild species that can grow in a range of habitats, such as mountains, deserts or salt marshes.

These efforts rely on protecting plants related to modern food crops at the sites where they grow in the wild as well as preserving their seeds in gene banks.

The first systematic assessment of wild wheat, rice and yam has led to the listing of three types of rice, two types of wheat (used to make bread) and 17 types of yam.

Marie Haga is Executive Director of The Crop Trust, an international organisation that is working to safeguard crop diversity.

She welcomed the inclusion of wild crops on the Red List.

''The IUCN has high legitimacy among decision makers and the general population, so it's extremely interesting that they are putting these wild relatives on their Red List,'' she told BBC News.

''I hope that will contribute to raising the awareness even further that we've got to take action, and we've got to take action now.''

Wild relatives of crops act as ''an insurance policy for the world'', she added.

Most of the wild rice crops that are threatened with extinction grow in South East Asia, while a few are found in Africa. The wild wheat plants that are of concern are found mainly in the Near and Middle East, including war-torn areas that are off-limits to conservationists.

Yams feed around 100 million people in Africa alone. Paul Wilkin of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said conservation work is being undertaken to make sure that wild yam plants are available to provide food and medicines worldwide, now and in the future.

''They will also be sources of key traits to breed improved, future-proof crop varieties,'' he said.

"These assessments enable the most threatened species of yams and other crop wild relatives to be prioritised effectively for conservation actions."

The economic value of crop wild relatives is put at US$115bn per year to the global economy.
Other Red List entries

In addition to wild crops, the IUCN highlighted other flora and fauna that have been added to the latest update of the Red List:

*Entanglement with fishing nets and overfishing have caused steep declines in the Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise, with both species moving from Vulnerable to Endangered

*Three reptiles found only on Australia's Christmas Island have been declared extinct in the wild

*Australia's western ringtail possum is in dramatic decline due to the increasingly hot and dry climate in Western Australia and predation from red foxes and feral cats

(A third of snakes and lizards native to Japan are listed as Threatened, due to habitat loss, collection for the pet trade and the introduction of predators such as the Japanese weasel.

But there is a success story; kiwis in New Zealand are recovering thanks to conservation efforts.

An effort to wipe out predators such as stoats and ferrets, as well as raising chicks in captivity to release in the wild, has boosted the number of two species of New Zealand's native bird.

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